The Return: Chapter Eighteen
The house was quiet with Matt staying overnight at the hospital. Jonas had called four of his wolves to stand guard, simply as a precaution, he said. Matt was grateful. Kinsey was…less than thrilled. He might have made a few threats and said unflattering things to Jonas, who stood there with a big grin on his face until Kinsey ran out of steam and hung up.
While he was talking to Kinsey, I made some phone calls of my own. I wanted to check on DD and Sawyer, the fire chief who Jonas had helped escape the flames. DD said she was getting better, but by her voice I could tell she was still in pain. I called the florist and had him send a chicken soup bouquet, with flowers, a big mug, and several containers of soup. She called me back and thanked me, saying it wasn’t necessary, because I was Alpha Mate, and—I told her to shut up.
I owed her so much. She tried to save a building. Yes, I was wrecked when I first heard, but then DD, Sawyer, and Jonas got hurt, and it made me wonder how important was the shop in the grand scheme of things? The answer was not very. Jonas had been right. The shop could be rebuilt, but death was forever.
Sawyer was grumbly when he answered. As we spoke, he was berating someone in the background, telling them he wasn’t a ‘fucking invalid’ and that they should go home. The warm laugh told me that wasn’t likely to happen.
“Please, tell Lance I’m fine on my own,” Sawyer pleaded.
“Put him on the phone, please.”
Sawyer yelled for Lance to come to the phone. A moment later, Lance’s voice came on the line.
“I’m not leaving.”
That made me chuckle. “I wasn’t going to ask you to. Keep an eye on him, okay? Tell him I said for you to stay as long as you deemed necessary.”
“Okay!” he cried happily, his voice rising an octave. “Sawyer, you grumpy bastard, Corey said I should stay as long as I thought I needed to.”
“What? No! Gimme that phone!”
“Oh, sorry. He already disconnected.”
And with that, I did.
Strong arms encircled me. “What are you smiling about?”
“Sawyer’s going to be loved to death, I think.”
“You mean Lance? I think it’s cute that Sawyer believes he has a chance in hell of getting out of this with his heart intact.”
I turned in Jonas’s embrace and wrapped my arms around him. “You think Lance would hurt him?”
“Oh, no. I mean Sawyer is going to be kicking and screaming, but Lance isn’t going to allow him to back down.”
I stood on tiptoe and kissed Jonas’s chin. “Funny how you can get when you really want something.”
An expression slid across his face. “What’s wrong?”
“We should talk.”
“Ouch. No good conversation ever started that way.”
He led me to the couch and we sat. I turned and waited for him to say something.
“Someone is after you,” he finally blurted out.
“What? That’s ridiculous. No one wants to hurt—”
Jonas held up a hand. “Look at the facts. They burned down the shop, then they were outside here with a rifle. They shot Kinsey. Someone is watching you, because there’s no way they could have known you’d be here.”
I swallowed hard. Was it possible? Why, though? It didn’t make any sense. “The worst thing I could have done was put soy milk in a drink instead of cream. There’s no reason anyone would be that angry with me. I mean, unless they took their dairy products really seriously.”
“This isn’t a joking matter, Core.”
I knew it wasn’t, but I hated the idea that he might be right. Especially when I couldn’t come up with a reason for it.
“You’re going to be staying here until we catch them.”
It wasn’t like I could argue that. I didn’t have to go to work or anything.
“I’m going to call the Council and have them send a new bodyguard.”
“What? No! We just told Kinsey you were going to watch me.”
He put an arm around me and pulled me close. “I’m not a professional, love. I can’t anticipate things like they could.”
“Then I’ll stay inside. I—what if it was one of the Council? I mean, they weren’t happy with me. How do you know they’re not going to send an assassin after me?”
“You read too much,” he said, kissing the top of my head. “The Council wouldn’t hurt any of their wolves.”
“As everyone wants to remind me, I’m human.”
“You’re pack. That’s all that matters.”
But now the idea was in my head. “Humor me. Do they have the power to kill someone?”
“Well, yes, but—”
“And weren’t they pissed with me? You said they left in a snit.”
“You called them out in front of—”
“Think about what you’re going to say here. I called them out. I challenged pack law without even knowing what it was. So is it inconceivable that they’d be angry with me?”
“Not mad enough to kill you. We’re wolves. We don’t solve problems with hitmen. We’re more up close and personal types. And since their power is the highest in the pack, they could have offed you in the shop without a problem. No one other than me would have said boo.”
“You’d have gone against the Council for me?”
He tucked a knuckle under my chin and tilted my head up. “I’d scorch the earth before I let someone hurt you.”
“You know what?” He slid his phone from his pocket, pulled up the contact list, then pressed the screen and held the screen out so I could see it.
“Who are you calling?”
He held up a finger. A few moments later, a familiar face appeared. “This is Councilor Delray.”
“Hey, it’s Jonas.”
“Good to hear from you, Alpha. How’s Corey?”
“He’s okay. I assume you know what happened?”
“Of course. And how is Kinsey?”
“The doctor says he’ll be all right.”
“I’m glad to hear that. We’re sure he and Matt will be very happy together.”
She knew about the wedding? “How’d you know?” I asked.
“Very few things happen that we don’t know about,” she replied. “Plus, as soon as we heard about the coffee shop, we sent a team to back you up. They’re in the woods around the pack house. I can promise you that no one will be getting close to you. Also, we have a crew studying the property and doing designs to present to you in order to rebuild it. Jonas was right. Your shop is the hub of activity for your pack. We’d like to ask you about expanding on that, perhaps make it part of the pack house at some point.”
I lifted my brows at Jonas and he shook his head. “How sure are you that these guys you’ve got here are okay? I want to be certain Corey is protected.”
“Commander Naughton has been in charge of our guardsman since before you were born.” Her voice was even, as if she wasn’t offended in the least we were questioning her. “He’s proven himself time and again. Thirty years ago, he rescued two people trapped in a car after an accident. He was dragging them away from their vehicle, when another struck him. He lost an arm, but his first question was whether he got the people out safely, which he had. What more do you need to know?”
“What about the men under him?”
“All handpicked by him. They’re his elites.”
Jonas tilted his head and shrugged. I nodded. It would do no good to get paranoid.
“I swear to you, we will keep you safe.”
“So you agree with Jonas that someone is after me?”
“We’ve discussed it, and yes, we feel this attack against you is personal.” She hesitated for a moment. “We’d like to ask you to think about moving Corey to a secure location.”
“Jonas, be reasonable. He needs to be protected.”
“He needs to be here for his pack. There’s turmoil now because people are hearing that someone attacked us. We need to calm the people, let them know we’re taking the threat seriously.”
“Why do you need Corey for that?”
“Uh, because they’re my pack too,” I insisted. “I am the Alpha Mate here, and I won’t be run off like a whipped puppy. No offense.”
“We can’t allow this,” Delray said. “Corey is the first and only human true mate. He’s precious, and means so much to every pack. When it was announced, the excitement among the wolves grew, because those seeking their true mates realized that it wasn’t only a small pool of canus shifters, but that the field was open more than anyone knew.”
I had never really thought about mates beyond me and Jonas. I also never considered being some kind of symbol to people. My people. Even if I wasn’t a shifter, this was my family. They’d taken a scared boy, who had to leave behind everything he knew, and move to Harken’s Corners when his life was uprooted, and they made it all okay.
“Where is this secure location?” I asked, unable to contain the sigh that slid from me.
“No one beyond the Council would know. Not even your mate would be told.”
Jonas bristled. “What? Hold on one goddamn minute—”
“It isn’t that we don’t trust you, Jonas,” Delray rushed out. “Far from it. You are one of the Alphas we hold as our future. Someone versed in things like….” She blew out a breath. “Like how to make calls on the computer. You’re a child of the twenty-first century, while many of the older Alphas are rigid and inflexible, you’re willing to learn, to adapt, and to grow. Your mate is a huge part of that, and we can’t afford to lose him. Corey, I know this is selfish, and I’m okay with how that sounds. You were right. For our packs to prosper, we all need to change with the times. I signed up for computer courses, and am slowly learning that technology isn’t to be feared.”
“That’s good, I guess.”
She chuckled. “It is. I realize I snapped when we first met, but it was more because I was being called out on the carpet. The problem? It was rightly so. The reason we can’t tell Jonas is in order to maximize security, no one beyond the Council and Corey would know. He would be locked in his room. Not even the bodyguards would be aware of who he was.”
“Bodyguard again?” Jonas snapped, his anger rolling off him. “I’m his fucking bodyguard.”
“Jonas…” I started, hoping to cool him down.
“No!” he barked, slashing a hand through the air. “This is all bullshit. You are my mate. You are mine to protect. I trust no one else with your safety.”
“Baby….” I cajoled, putting a hand on his chest. “The pack needs you right now. You’re their center.”
He grabbed my shoulders and stared into my eyes. I shivered at the intensity I saw there. “You don’t listen. You never did. We are their center. Together we make the pack stronger. You alone or me alone, we’re only half a person. Neither is complete without the other.”
His expression tore through me. He was pleading with me to understand, to agree with what he was telling me.
“Jonas has to know,” I said. “He’s right. He’s my mate, and I won’t have him splitting his attention worrying about me. I dealt with that when we were kids, and I won’t have him go through the same thing.”
“It’s already been decided,” she said.
“Then undecide it,” I insisted. “If Jonas doesn’t know where I am, then I don’t go.”
He kissed me on the forehead. “Thank you.”
“You need to listen to reason, Corey,” she said.
“I am. I’m listening to every reason Jonas has ever given me to trust in him implicitly. He has always been there for me, standing up to others, holding me when I thought for sure I’d fly apart. Even when we were apart, he never stopped thinking about me, just like I kept him in my thoughts. He’s my mate. My true mate, whatever that means. He said that Fate was the one who brought us together. Are you so willing to go against that?”
Her lips thinned out, and her eyes narrowed. “You should have been a politician,” she said, her tone defeated. “You speak the language well.”
“No, but thank you for saying so. I only want to help my pack prosper, and to love my mate.”
Jonas beamed at me, and mouthed ‘I love you’.
She sighed. “We’ll be moving him to Fort Andres.”
When Jonas gasped, I figured that meant it wasn’t a good thing.
“That’s a prison!” He turned to me. “When shifters went feral, they used to be put down immediately. Then the law was changed where those who hadn’t hurt anyone were sent to Fort Andres and locked away for their safety as well as that of humans.”
“It’s also the safest place we can find. Firstly, it’s surrounded on three sides by water, and the only access to the place requires someone to come down a two mile road, which means they’ll be spotted as they approach. There’s been no one there, since it was closed five years ago. It would be Corey and a cadre of guards. That’s it.”
“And you honestly think no one will know he’s there?”
“I can guarantee it,” she said firmly, then her features softened. “Jonas, we need Corey. He represents our future, and we’re scared to death that something will happen to him. I understand this isn’t fair to either of you, and believe me, no one here likes it the fact we have no options, but his safety must be paramount.”
Jonas sulked, his lower lip jutted out slightly. I believed he was starting to see wisdom in the plan, and he hated it. I reached out and put a hand on his wrist. He startled, then peered into my eyes. There was such sadness in his.
“Core, what do you think?”
I was honestly hoping he wouldn’t ask me, because I didn’t want to be away from him, but thinking about DD, Sawyer, and Kinsey.… If I stayed, who else would be hurt?
“I think… I think I have to go. I don’t want anyone else to be a target to get to me.”
He nodded. “That’s what I was figuring you’d say.” His shoulders slumped. “I hate every fucking part about this, but I can’t have you hurt.”
That meant he was going to agree to this insanity. How stupid was it that we’d finally gotten back to each other, and now we were going to be torn apart again?
“Please tell me it won’t be six years this time.”
He gave a weak smile. “I sure as hell hope not.”
“We’ll get this figured out as soon as we can,” Delray promised. “We’ll leave in two hours.”
I wanted one last night with Corey. To be held in his arms, and hear him promise me that everything would be okay. If I had that, I knew I could survive this.
“It has to be done quickly,” she said. “I’m sorry. I truly wish there was another way.”
And I could hear the sadness in her voice. “I misjudged you,” I told her. “For that, I apologize.”
She chuckled. “When I was younger, wolves were very patriarchal. Women were meant to stay in the home and care for the pups. The idea there would ever be a female on the council was ludicrous at best, insanity at worst. I have been called a ballbreaker more than once, I can promise you that. I’m okay with that, though, because it pushes me to work harder, to let the girls know that they can be anything. Now that we have a few female alphas, it’s getting better faster. Still a long way to go, but we’re getting there.”
“I’ll be ready,” I told her, though looking at Jonas, I wanted to beg him to let me stay.
We disconnected the Skype call, and I tumbled into Jonas’s arms. “Tell me I’m not making a big mistake.”
“We both are,” he murmured, his breath tickling my ear. “I honestly can’t think of a way to keep you safe without help.”
There was a knock on the door, and I cringed, because we only had two hours. I had so many things I wanted to say to him. He crossed the room and peered through the peephole.
“Shit, it’s my dad.”
“You know I can hear you,” came the booming voice.
“Why do you think I said it?” Jonas replied as he tugged the door open.
His father had always been big to me. I never realized it was because he was an Alpha wolf, but now it made sense. He grabbed Corey and pulled him into a tight embrace, then turned his attention to me.
“Good to see you, sir,” I said.
It only took three steps before he was in front of me, staring down. I felt like a bug trapped beneath a glass, with a giant staring at me. When he reached out and yanked me off my feet, I yelped, then a moment later found myself pulled to his chest.
“Corey, I am so very sorry about my many mistakes,” he said. “You have every right to hate me and—“
“I don’t hate you,” I said. “Never. I was upset, yeah, but hate you? No. Your family always cared for me. You made me feel like I belonged in Harken’s Corners. You gave me Jonas, for goodness sake. How could I hate you?”
There was a very real possibility that I could die, and I didn’t want any regrets, so I had to clear the air. And every word of it was true. He was my mate’s father. My father-in-law. For Jonas and for my family, I would get past the hurt.
If I lived long enough.