The Return: Chapter Nineteen
“It’s a wise precaution,” my father said. “Fort Andres is easily defensible, and I can’t think of anywhere safer for them to keep Corey.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “Why is this happening now? It doesn’t make sense.”
Which I kept telling myself. “I don’t know. Maybe they figure they can make me suffer too?”
Jonas looked at me. “What’s on your mind?”
I shook my head. “Never mind. This is all wolf stuff.”
“No,” Dad said, reaching for Corey’s hand. “This is family stuff. Say what you think.”
I sighed, because I knew that what I was about to tell them would make me look stupid. “You said that if something happened to me, it might cause you to go feral, right? Maybe that’s the whole point of this.”
Dad looked at me, his face a stone mask. “He’s right. What if, by hurting Corey, they’re really trying to hurt you? It would explain why they waited so long to do something. You came back, and now they want to make you suffer.”
I hated that he was right.
“I’ll be going with Corey,” Dad said.
He smiled and reached out to cup my cheek. It was something he hadn’t done since I was a little kid, and I kind of leaned into it.
“Who better to protect your mate than your father?”
“But you’re the Alpha.”
He chuckled. “Please. You’ve been the Alpha for the longest time. I’m just a placeholder. The transfer of powers is only a formality, and we all know it. No one comes to me anymore, they all go to you. If they have problems, they don’t talk with your mother, they come see Corey.” The smile slid off his face. “I would die to protect your mate. Our son-in-law.”
Corey’s jaw dropped open, but then it was replaced by an anger I didn’t even know he was capable of.
“Fuck that!” he snarled. “No one is dying for me, especially not someone I’ve always thought of as a second father.”
Dad smiled. “Really? I know how mad you are at me.”
“Was. I was angry, but not nearly enough to want you to die.”
He stood up and threw himself at my dad, who caught him in his arms and lifted him off the floor. Corey buried his face in Dad’s neck, while Dad stroked a hand over his back. This was what I’d hoped for when the time came. My family loved Corey, and I knew he returned those feelings.
“I’m sorry I was so angry,” he whispered. “You didn’t deserve it.”
“I did,” Dad replied. “I don’t have a lot of experience dealing with humans, and I made some really bad choices. Jonas told me I treated your family like children, and I did. We all wanted to protect you and keep you safe, and in doing so, we pushed you away. The fact you knew our secret? That you kept it? That shows how mature you were. Are. You’re the perfect mate for Jonas, and we couldn’t be happier that you’re a member of our family.”
Corey sobbed, and Dad squeezed harder. I understood. Six years of thinking you’d done something wrong, of letting all that hurt and anger pile up, and now it was leaking out of him.
“Hey, baby?” I said, nudging Corey gently. “Don’t you think it’s me you should be hugging?”
He tightened his grip. “No, fuck off.”
I couldn’t help the laugh that burst out of me. “Okay, keep hugging him, that’s fine.”
He turned and the redness of his eyes hurt my heart. I wanted to pull him to me, to protect him, keep him safe. He should never be sad.
“I’ll make it up to you, I promise. I just need…I need….”
And the waterworks started again. I put my forehead to his back. “You need your father?”
Corey nodded. I knew he missed his own parents. He’d always been so close to them, so when they moved, he must have been devastated. I’d wanted to come back to hold him, but wasn’t allowed to do so. Dad said he had people keeping Corey occupied, so his mind—that beautiful, brilliant mind of his—would be kept busy. I hated it, because it should have been me comforting my mate, not others. That was part of the problem, though. I was too possessive of Corey, and Dad and Mom both told me I needed to grow up before I could claim him, or it would lead to tragedy.
And, as always, they were right. Memories of Corey were enough to make me insane. Thoughts that he might be with someone else made me murderous, even if they were only friends. More than once, Dad had asked me if I was going to keep Corey locked away where no one else could see him, and the answer was always the same. ‘Hell, yes!’
It took years of meditation, of study, of running off every spare erg of energy with my dad before my brain finally started to catch up to my body. It was a slow process, understanding one moment, pretty much insane the next, but those dark moments came less and less, until one day I realized that if I wanted Corey to trust me, I had to do the same with him.
Mom and Dad were so proud of me the day I went to them and told them that Corey would never have to give up his dreams for me. That he was free to choose what he wanted to do with his life, and I hoped that he’d let me be part of it. I won’t deny my wolf still wanted to keep him locked away, because he was so damn precious
“I love you, Core,” I murmured into his shoulder.
This time he turned around and attached himself to me. Dad winked, then left the room. Corey’s body felt so good under my hands. I buried my face in his neck, and inhaled.
“Are you always going to do that?” Corey asked, his lips tickling my cheek.
“As long as you continue to smell so damn good, yes.”
We were quiet for a few moments, then he said, “I don’t want to go.”
And I knew that feeling. My wolf was absolutely heartbroken at the thought our mate wasn’t going to be near us to protect. I had no idea how I could be expected to function if he wasn’t near me, especially now that I’d claimed him.
“You’ll be okay,” he said. “You’ve got the pack to keep you busy, and—“
“No ‘and’!” I snapped. “My priority is going to be finding out who is trying to hurt you, so you can come home sooner. The pack was without me for years, so a few more weeks won’t hurt anything.”
“I think your dad will disagree. He wants to get on to the next phase of his life with your mom, and we can’t begrudge him that. We have to let him do that.”
No, fuck that. “Dad!”
“What are you doing?”
I ignored him. Dad came around the corner, and locked eyes with me. “What’s up?”
“Corey says we have to let you get back to your life.”
Dad growled, and it went right through me. I hadn’t heard him do that in years. He stormed over to us and got his face near Corey.
“Do not think I’d be leaving while you’re in danger, you idiot.”
Core’s eyes widened and he glared at me. “Are you going to let him call me an idiot?”
“Uh, yeah, because he’s not wrong.” I nuzzled his throat, and found myself calming. “I told you, you’re the heart of our pack, and the longer you’re gone, the more everyone will suffer. Wanna know something? Dad will back me up on this. The Alpha is secondary to his mate in terms of pack cohesion.”
“Hell, yes,” Dad echoed. “Without Marta, everything would fall apart. My pack didn’t need me nearly as much as they did her. I was good for bringing in money to keep everything running smoothly, but Marta? She counseled, she brought the pack together. That’s going to be your job, Corey. You will be the person that binds everyone.”
“That’s…a lot of responsibility.”
Dad chuckled. “Marta said the same thing, but you need to realize that Fate brought you together with Jonas. The two of you, with your separate halves, form a perfect pair. Marta isn’t my true mate, but as an Alpha mate, she was a force to be reckoned with.”
“What’s the difference between a mate and a true mate?” Corey asked.
“There isn’t an easy answer to that,” Dad said. “Marta and I work together well, because we communicated every night. Even on days when we fought, we still talked in the evenings. That usually settled us both and ended the disagreement. Usually. There were times I was a stubborn ass, and we didn’t settle the argument—which she was always right—until a day or two later, but that still didn’t stop us from discussing things at night, because we needed to come together for the pack.
“The two of you, as true mates, have a bond that transcends any normal marriage. You get each other on a level we can’t attain. Given time, you’ll be able to intuit how each other feels, speak without using words, and more. You’ll be more like one person, instead of two separate individuals. What Marta and I have to discuss, you two will know inherently.” He reached for Corey, who grasped his hand. “I know a true mate couple, and although I believe Marta and I are happy, we’ll never be that kind of happy. Emon and Dara have six kids, and they’re all like one entity.”
“So they’re like Borg?”
“Oh, you’re funny. Jonas, are you sure this is your mate?”
“Dad, don’t tease the mate. He’s sensitive.”
He gave me a wink. “Oh, right, sorry. No, they’re not Borg. What they are is mind touched. Even the kids. Did you ever rebel against your parents? Like you were so mad, you could have spit nails, and wouldn’t tell them why?” Corey nodded. “Well, their kids don’t ever have to worry about that. Emon and Dara know what’s wrong with them, and they talk about it. They don’t let secrets fester, and in their family misunderstandings don’t exist.”
“Sounds like perfection,” Core said.
“Yes and no. There’s such a thing as too much closeness, in my opinion. Never having private thoughts? Never enjoying a good snit, just because? Not for me.”
“You’d feel differently if you found your true mate, Dad.”
He cocked his head. “I don’t think so. See, your mother and I? We have to work at what you will be able to do naturally. I believe it brings us a lot closer, because we put more into it. We never take for granted that the other person will just know how we’re feeling, and in order to maintain that, we work extra hard at it.”
It made sense to me logically, but Corey was my true mate. He was the one I would always know, always love.
“Can true mates break up?” Corey asked, which shook me to my core.
Dad stroked a hand over his chin. “I’ve never heard it, so I can’t answer you for certain.”
“Would you…break up with me?” I asked, hating that I had to do it. I knew Corey, but the one from my childhood. Things and events shaped the person who stood before me now. Just because he loved me, it didn’t mean he’d be willing to stay with me.
His jaw dropped. “What? Hell, no! I just got you back, and I am not going to let you go without a fight. If I have to tie you down to keep you here, that’s what I’ll do. I’m only asking because I want to know everything about being your mate and being part of the pack.”
My heart thumped happily.
“As far as I know,” Dad continued, “the mate bond can never be broken. Even in death, the bond still exists. The problem is, if one mate dies, the other will likely follow shortly after, victim of a broken heart. I think that’s probably the only thing I’m jealous of. Not that I want Marta to die, of course. It’s just…we will never have a connection like the two of you share. Every year that passes, your bond will become deeper, richer, more fulfilled. You’ll love and grow and…. Okay, maybe I’m a little bit more jealous than I thought.”
“Don’t be,” Corey said. “I’ve seen you and your wife together. There’s a bond there that always made me happy to see. My parents—both sets—are the ones who gave me my foundation for life. They showed me how rewarding it is to fall in love, to raise a family, and—“
“Wait,” I said, suddenly excited. “You’d consider a family?”
“Of course,” came the reply. “Why wouldn’t I?”
Dad beamed the biggest smile I’ve ever seen in my life. “To be honest, we weren’t sure it would happen. An Alpha is supposed to be strong, and make powerful pups. We thought Jonas might be the last in line for us.”
“Psh. That’s antiquated thinking. We can adopt or we can have a surrogate.” He moved to me and wrapped his arms around my neck. “It doesn’t matter how we do it, all that does is we’d do it together.”
“So getting you pregnant wouldn’t have been such a bad thing, eh?”
He grinned. “Well, we can always try it the old fashioned way and keep at it until we get it right.”
Dad shook his head. “And on that note, I’m going to pack up some things to take along with me.”
“Mr. Brodie,” Corey started, then he stopped and gazed fondly at my father. “Dad.”
I’d never seen my father with tears in his eyes before, but now they were there, and he didn’t seem to care. He picked Corey up again and held him to his body.
“Thank you,” he whispered. “For forgiving me.”
“I told you, I was never really angry with you. I was hurt, yes, but I wasn’t looking at it from any viewpoint but mine. Now that I know most of the story, I truly do understand—and appreciate—what you had to do.” He turned he head in my direction. “I wouldn’t ever want anyone to put Jonas down, because then I wouldn’t be able to love him.”
They came for me not long after. My mind was screaming for me to refuse to go, to stay with Jonas, but my heart knew it was the right thing to do in order to protect the pack. My pack. Jonas wrapped me in a hug, and when Counselor Delray said it was time to go, I had to pry his arms off me, and push his nose out of my throat.
“I will find who did this,” he vowed.
“And I swear to you, I will keep Corey safe,” Dad said.
Another round of hugs, and we were whisked to a waiting car. The trip was like something you’d see in a spy movie. We swapped cars and guards at least five times, then everyone but Counselor Delray, who drove the last leg, was blindfolded. It seemed overkill to me, but I followed their instructions. What gave me strength was Dad sat beside me and held my hand.
It seemed weird, but with every mile away from Jonas, my heart seized, as if it was tinfoil being crumpled. I wasn’t sure why, but it physically hurt being away from him. I leaned over and whispered—not that no one else heard, seeing as how they all had a wolf’s hearing—telling him how I was feeling.
“That’s one of the problems with the mate bond. When we went away, Jonas experienced that same thing every day. You don’t know how bad I felt taking him away from you, and watching him suffer didn’t help matters at all.”
He squeezed my fingers, but stared out the window toward the sun.
“The whole time we were up there, I felt I was doing a disservice to my son. You are his mate, and I took him from you. Every night, when Marta and I talked, I told her I was sure I was doing the wrong thing, and every night she would agree with me, but then tell me it had to be done. You didn’t see Jonas with Adam. Even I was afraid of him.”
He sighed and let his head thunk against the window. “That day, even from his first shift, Jonas was far stronger than I was. If he had attacked me, I couldn’t have stopped him. I needed to use your name to make him think. He would have killed Adam—not that I would have cared, truthfully—but I didn’t want that to stain him or to make the pack fear him. I know more than a few members were surprised he even came back after what happened.”
“He was only a kid. Why would you be afraid of him?”
“A wolf is protective of his mate. If anyone came after Marta, I would go nuts. However, I would retain my mind. Jonas? He was gone, Corey. At that very moment, he was feral, and I feared I’d have to kill him to get him to stop. That’s the power—and the curse—of the true mate bond.”
“But I was okay.”
“I doubt that. You went out every night for a year, trying to find him. Tell me what you were feeling.”
I wish I could say I had to think, but the memories were clear as crystal. “Panic, pain, fear, certainty something was horribly wrong. It’s…not unlike what I’m feeling now.”
“See? Even as a human, you’re feeling the effects too.”
“So you’re saying that Jonas might go feral again?”
He sighed. “I truly hope not.”
“But it’s possible?” My stomach clenched. “Is that what you’re telling me?”
“When we went away, I made him meditate every day, forcing him to focus on the pack as a whole and you as a part of that whole. Even then, I knew it wasn’t going to work if he didn’t use his head. You’re his heart, Corey. You are everything in the world that means anything to him.”
“The pack means something to him.”
“True, but compared to you?”
“Yes, even compared to me. He loves that pack, and he will give up his life to defend them. You should have seen him when Kinsey was shot. He was pale and shaky, but resolute.”
“How is Kinsey?”
“Jonas put him and Matt up at bed and breakfast in Colorado for a few weeks. He’s mending, but for Kinsey, it’s not fast enough. He hates that he can’t be here to help us, and hates that he isn’t strong enough to protect Matt.”
“Wolves are stubborn creatures.”
Oh, that I knew. “Yeah, tell me about it.”
It was quiet for a bit, and then he asked, “So you knew about us being wolves?”
“And you didn’t tell anyone?”
I chuckled. “Who’d believe me? Plus, it’s Jonas. I would have done—will do—anything for him.”
“You know I can’t ever make up for my mistakes.”
When I was younger, I wanted to demand answers, but now that I had them? “You don’t have to make up for them. I understand why and, you may not believe this, I agree with what you did.” Time for a confession. “I wouldn’t have been able to wait for sex with Jonas. If he had asked me, I would have dropped to my knees anytime, anywhere.”
“That would have made things so much worse.”
“I figured. So you taking him away? It hurt, but it was the right thing to do. For him, for me, for the pack.”
He leaned closer to me, our shoulders touching. “How can you be so understanding?”
I puffed up my chest a bit. “Because I’m the true mate of an Alpha, and it’s my job to care for my pack.” He sniffled, and I turned to look at him. “What’s wrong?”
“You humble me. Watching you grow up, I said to myself many times that you would be an amazing influence on the pack, because you were on Jonas. In all my years, I have never met anyone who could ignore the pull of the wolf like he could. When I was his age, I didn’t have that kind of strength. Hell, even now, I don’t. Jonas is, without a doubt, the strongest Alpha I have ever met. He’s good, kind, and more than a little intimidating.”
“Jonas? Please, he’s an overgrown puppy.”
Dad’s laughter was loud in the car. Counselor Delray peeked in the mirror and gave us a smile, but said nothing.
“He told me about you seeing his third form. How you weren’t at all afraid. You’ve got a set on you, kid. Marta is terrified of mine.”
That made no sense to me. “Why? It’s still you in there.”
“It just scares her. I can understand. We’re bigger, hairier, growlier—“
“Stop, you’re turning me on.” I laughed. “I could never be afraid of Jonas.”
“Your trust in him is that absolute?” He smiled. “It must be nice.”
How could I not trust him? He was my mate, even if I still had little idea what all that meant. The only thing I was certain of right now is that my heart was hurting more and more the farther away we got from each other. At least now I understood why it was so painful when he left. He told me we had a connection, and I get it now.
I missed my mate.