The Return: Chapter Seven
The sheer number of people in the place stunned me. It was hard to wrap my brain around all of them being werewolves. It also wreaked havoc on my mind that a place this big was so well hidden.
When we got out of the car, I stood a few moments and gaped up at it. Two levels, with wraparound porches on the top and bottom. The wood was a medium brown color, but I couldn’t tell you what it was. Windows were spaced around it, making it seem as though the house would have sunlight throughout the day. Gray slate tiles with solar panels ran along the roof. The place reminded me of a giant treehouse, with spotlights illuminating the grounds, including a path that appeared to have a fire pit on it. I had to admit, the place was breathtaking.
“You lived here?”
“Don’t sound like that,” Jonas complained, a bitter note in his voice. “It’s a nice place. Great, actually. But you don’t know what it was like. I had no one. You weren’t here. There weren’t many other people around other than my parents. The pack wasn’t allowed to come out here for anything other than a monthly run. Which I couldn’t participate in. I could hear them, I could smell them, but wasn’t allowed to see them. So yeah, as prisons go, it’s beautiful and gilded, but it was still a jail.”
A line of vehicles ran up the drive, parking in the paved lot or finding a space along the delicately manicured path. The pack had arrived.
“Come on, let’s go,” he said, as he turned and headed toward the lodge. I followed behind him, ready to find out this wasn’t my world, and that I didn’t belong here. When Jonas opened the door, the voices inside stopped. I don’t mean they lowered. I mean they all went dead silent. It was eerie as hell to be in a room with over a hundred people, and not hear them make a sound.
When Jonas strode through the crowd, I heard the first murmur. It slowly turned into a swell of voices, all raised in supplication. I shrank back, because I knew, despite what Jonas had said, I didn’t belong here.
Then, as one, the assembled people turned in my direction, and they smiled. It was freaky as hell.
“Corey!” called Doug Baxter. He and Amy made their way to me. Amy was getting bigger. She looked beautiful with her hair done up in a messy bun, and wearing what essentially was a mumu.
“Amy, you look great.”
Her brows furrowed as she jutted out her lip. “I’d look better if I had gotten a choux bun.”
“I’m going to try to make decaf ones. All the flavor, none of the caffeine.”
Her grin widened. “Pull this off, and I’ll dump this one and run away with you.” The voices stilled again. Doug’s face was ashen. She turned and gave a dismissive wave. “It’s a joke, sheesh. Pregnant people need to find the fun where they can.”
No one laughed, and I realized they were staring at me. I didn’t care. I thought it was funny.
“That’s a good one, Amy,” I said with a chuckle. “But I think Jonas… I mean Alpha might not agree with it.”
“Agree with what?” the man asked as he came over and handed me a plate nearly overflowing with snacks. He pointed to each item in turn.
“These are jalapeno popper cheese balls with bacon and chives, these are baked spicy wings. Over here we have cheesy sriracha chicken quesadillas, and the last ones are puff pizza snacks. There are other things on the table, but the plates are only so big.”
“So’s my stomach,” I reminded him. “You only called people about this meeting a little while ago. Where’d all this food come from?”
“The packhouse has a chef,” he informed me. “It was the one bright spot about being here, because my mom’s cooking ability is…limited. He’s on the text chain, and as soon as he found out there was going to be a gathering, he started working on nibbles for everyone.” He peered around the room. “And before you ask, no, this isn’t everyone. Several people couldn’t make it because of issues with childcare and things like that. They’ll catch up with us later.”
I took a bite out of a puff pizza, and groaned when cheese and the spiciest pizza sauce I’d ever had, squirted out and landed on my shirt.
“Shit,” I grumbled, I put the plate down and was about to try and find a way to clean the mess, when Amy came over, napkin in hand.
“Let me,” she said, taking the fabric in hand and dabbing at it.
“No, it’s okay. I can—”
“Let her, Corey,” Doug told me. “Doing things for you makes us happy.”
And by me, I knew he didn’t mean Corey the person, but Corey the mate of their upcoming Alpha.
Jonas grinned, leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. “I have to go address the masses. I don’t want everyone here too late.”
He sauntered through the crowd, stopping to shake hands with a few people, then got to the front of the room. He waved a hand, and the room went quiet again. Very disconcerting.
“Thank you all for coming on such short notice,” he said, his voice booming through the room without a microphone. “I’m going to try to keep this short so you can all get back home. As many of you heard through the rumor mill…” He gave Angela and her friends a wink. “I am back. My dad will be stepping down next week, and we’ll have the transfer ceremony then. I hope you can all make it.”
He leaned back, his butt resting on the edge of one of the tables surrounding the room.
“I need to make a few things clear before we go any further. You are all well aware of what happened with Adam. It’s not a secret, and I don’t expect anyone to treat it as such. I also will not apologize for what I did, because Adam violated pack law in a most egregious way. He put his hands on Corey, causing him injury. That would be enough for me to end his life, but I didn’t. What set me off was when he…” Jonas sought me out, and when he saw me, took a deep breath. “He made comments about the rape of my mate.”
The gasp was insanely loud. My stomach clenched. I hadn’t known about that at all.
“I was going to kill him for that. I would have killed him, but my Dad stopped me. He reminded me that we don’t do those things anymore, if we can avoid them. That’s the reason Adam’s family left the pack. They were given the choice of one on one combat with me and Adam, or to be banished. His mom made the decision to leave.”
There were angry murmurs throughout the room. I thought they were mad at me or at Jonas, but then snippets of conversation reached me.
“…rape Corey? That’s bullshit.”
“….knew there was something off with Adam.”
“….thing his mother left.”
They weren’t upset with me. They were angry on my behalf.
“At this time, I want to make a formal declaration. Corey, could you come up here, please?”
Well, great. The spot that Amy had tried to clean was now a huge wet stain. Still, I had to do as asked, because I didn’t want Jonas to appear as weak in front of everyone. I made my way through the room, noticing how many people patted my shoulder or back, then stopped beside Jonas.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve known Corey Mills for years as our neighbor. You watched as he grew up as a member of our pack, and you accepted him as a friend. What you may not know, is that Corey was keeping a secret. He’s known since we were younger that Harken’s Corners is a haven for werewolves.”
A gasp went up and heads turned in my direction, but Jonas asked for quiet.
“He kept that secret, even from me. He has been more than friend. He has been our ally, even without us knowing. And today, I’m proud to stand before one and all and tell you that Corey Mills is also my mate.”
A swell of sound rose, and I shrank away, expecting the worst. Then I noticed that people were smiling and cheering. Jonas came forward and pulled me into the throng, who surrounded us. They were touching me, telling me how happy they were I was part of the pack, and how much it meant to them that I stood by them, even without knowing what was happening.
It was humbling, and heat rose in my cheeks. Jonas tugged me into an embrace, and I let myself relax as he stroked a hand over my back. He put his mouth next to my ear.
“Welcome to our world, Corey.”
And I knew this place, with these people, at this time? Despite my fears, it was where I belonged.
I doubt anyone was more surprised than I was at how Corey became the center of attention. People were going up to him and asking him questions ranging from ‘how does it feel to know you’re mated to our Alpha’ to ‘can you teach me to make those choux buns?’ Through it all, Corey smiled, though it didn’t reach his eyes.
My mate was overwhelmed. Tired. Unsettled in his skin. Still, he persevered. When I approached and put a hand on him, he calmed.
“Are you ready to go home?”
He turned a grateful gaze in my direction. “Yes, if you are, Alpha.”
Hearing him say that to me was…weird. I liked my name, especially from Corey’s lips. Maybe I’d have to rethink this whole adherence to tradition and consider starting new ones. I slid an arm around him and guided Corey through the mob that still hadn’t gone home. As we left, they called and wished him well, telling him they’d be in bright and early for a cup of coffee. He groaned.
He snuck a glance at his phone. “I have to be up in two hours to get everything ready.”
“Can’t you close?”
He scowled at me. “I haven’t had any business in the last three days! I’m not sure if I can afford my next order now, and you’re wondering if I can close?”
“We can pay for—”
“No, you can’t! Listen, you all gave me a scholarship. You welcomed me to Harken’s Corners as a member of the pack. I need to pull my weight too. I can’t slide by because I’m mated to you.” His eyes widened. “And I still don’t even know what that means!”
I grabbed his wrist and yanked him to me. “I told you. It means I’m your strength. If you have to open in a few hours, let’s do this. We’ll go home, take a shower, and then I’ll come in and help you.”
He smirked. “What do you know about making choux buns?”
“It depends. Are you using gelatin, agar agar, cornstarch, or do you have something else you prefer?”
His jaw dropped, and I had to bite back a laugh. “How did you…?”
“I explained it. We had people keeping an eye on you. They told my mom that the choux buns were one of your biggest sellers, so she and I learned to make them. In fact, we made a file of the ones we loved, the ones we liked, and the ones we could happily toss at people.”
“Fine. What do you know about making a Ristretto?”
This time he had me. “We tried, but it always turned out for crap.”
“I thought you had a chef?”
“We do, but doing this with my mom made me feel…. I don’t know. Like you and we were still connected.”
I hope Corey understood what I meant. I wasn’t as good with my words as he was, so I’d probably mess it up.
“You could teach me whatever I need to do. I’m a good student.”
That made him snort. “I think we both know better than that.”
“When Dad brought me up here, he told me that I needed to buckle down. I had to learn every aspect of being an Alpha. That included business acumen. He sat with me every morning and grilled me. Trust me, I can be taught.”
“Not by me. Someone asked for the Ristretto and I said no problem. I ended up in tears in the back office. I’ve got no idea how anyone could make the damned thing consistently.”
I squeezed him gently. “So what do you say? Let me help you?”
He grinned. “I dunno. You’re this high and mighty Alpha. What will people think of you slumming with us commoners?”
“They’re going to look at me, and say, “He’s a good man. Look how he’s helping his mate. I hope that bastard appreciates what he’s got.””
He turned his head up and gave me the most brilliant smile. “I’m starting to. If you’re willing, and if you have time, I could really use your help.”
“It would be my honor,” I promised him.
When we got back to his place, I pulled him to the bathroom and helped him strip off his clothes. Then I followed suit. Birthday suit! Okay, it sounded funnier in my head, I’m sure. I turned on the water, until it felt comfortable, then took his elbow and led him under the spray.
“Y’know, I had dreams like this,” he told me as he picked up the washcloth and liquid soap. “Can I…. Would it be okay if I washed you?”
A smart man would say yes. A wise man would say no.
“No, I want to take care of my mate. I’ve got years to make up for, so I should get started.”
I took the cloth from him and ran it over his chest, loving how he sucked in a breath. I snuck a peek down south and noticed his cock was puffing up. The thought of slamming him against the wall and taking him hard—mostly my wolf’s thoughts, but there might have been a few of my own in there—rode me, but I needed to give Corey time to learn about me. About his place in my life and my world.
Didn’t mean I wasn’t going to have a bit of fun with him.
“Jonas,” he whispered, barely audible over the pounding spray. He sagged against me, and I gladly accepted his weight.
“I know you might not believe this, given the circumstances, but I swear to you, you’re mine, Core. Everything about you belongs to me.” I reached up and touched his hair. “Mine.” I slid my hand down his ears. “Mine.” His face. “Mine.” I slid my hand down his throat, delighted when he tilted his head for me. “Mine.” Every part of him I touched, I claimed as my own. When I brushed my fingers over his ass, he whimpered. “This? It’s mine too.” Then I reached around and grabbed his engorged cock. “Also mine.”
He keened, and without warning, I found myself the recipient of his load over my legs and feet.
Fuck, that was hot.
“I’m sorry!” he cried out. “I’m so—”
I grabbed his neck and leaned down to mash our mouths together. When I demanded entrance, he opened for me. I swept my tongue inside, and growled. His taste was more of that sense of home. He grasped me, clutching me tight. It was surprising to find his erection hadn’t wilted after his orgasm, but when I touched it, he shuddered and drew away.
“Don’t,” he whimpered. “Too sensitive.”
One day I was determined to put that to the test.
“Never apologize for your body’s reaction to me,” I told him. “I explained it was mine, so there’s nothing to be sorry for. To go on record, that was amazing.”
He reached down and slid slender fingers around my engorged shaft. For the first time in my life, a hand that wasn’t mine was touching me, and it was glorious. He started to slide to his knees, and my wolf went nuts. It wanted our shaft in our mate’s mouth, in his ass.
I reached down, slid my fingers under his pits, and pulled him up. “No, Core. Don’t.” It would have been a lot more believable if my voice hadn’t gone up an octave.
“Why? You don’t want me to….?”
His voice had a tremor of hurt to it.
“You have no idea how badly I want you to,” I replied. “But there’s been six years since we’ve been together, and I want us to find that zone where we finished each other’s thoughts, where we could snuggle in bed, and where….” My voice cracked. “Where you knew everything about me.”
He peered up at me. “I thought you’d want this,” he muttered.
“Oh, God. I do! But as much as I want sex—and I want that a lot—I want my mate to not have lingering doubts about me, my family or, most importantly, his place in my world. I need for him to know what he’s getting into. This isn’t an easy life, not even for a born wolf. There are demands on my time that might keep me in the office until late at night. I could get a summons and have to go running at any moment. I am the Alpha, the leader, of this group, and when needed, I must answer that call.” I turned off the water, and reached out for the towel hanging over the sink. I wrapped him in it, caressing his skin as I dried him. “Unless you want us to leave. Then I could devote my time exclusively to you.”
“Being with you every moment of every day?” He snorted. “Pass.”
I clutched the front of my throat and mock gasped. “Well!”
He chuckled. “My job might not be as important as yours, but to me it’s fulfilling. I built a business, and while the wolves might come because they support pack, I am still going to give them my all to ensure they’re happy.”
I grinned at him. “I wish you could hear yourself like I do. An Alpha’s mate cares for the pack. They ensure they’re clothed and fed, that the children have access to an education, and that they’re overall happy. Without even knowing this, you’re doing the job exactly.”
“I like taking care of people,” he told me. “I find it fulfilling in so many ways.”
“Then you, love of my life, are the perfect mate for me and the perfect Alpha Mate for our pack. People will come to you with problems. They’ll reach out to you for help, for comfort, for…well, a lot of things. Do you think you can deal with that?”
I grabbed him by the waist and hefted him over my shoulder. His indignant squawk was hilarious. He kept smacking my back as I carried him through the house, and into the bedroom, where I lay him down as though he was something precious. Which he was.
“Yeah, I can deal with it.”
“Awesome.” I kissed him, and he wrapped his arms around my neck, holding me in place. I broke the kiss, despite his whine and reminded him we had a shop to open.
“Shit. Can’t I close it today?”
“If you want.”
He huffed out a breath. “No. If people don’t get their caffeine and choux buns, they might try to hunt me down.”
“I won’t ever let them get to you,” I promised.
His eyes glittered in the dim light. “Have I mentioned how happy I am you’re back?”
“No, but feel free to tell me all you want.”
He pulled me into another kiss, and I fucking melted.
I doubt anyone would notice if we were a little late.