The Return: Chapter Seventeen
We sat in the waiting room for two hours. Matt never once let go of my hand, even though both were damp. Each time a door opened, Matt’s head snapped in that direction to see who it was. It was never the doctor.
“Do you know how I met Kinsey?” he asked softly.
“No, why don’t you tell us?” Jonas said.
“He was assigned to guard a new Alpha, who was installed after the old one died. It was natural causes. Aubrey Tate was like a million years old, and he’d fathered a lot of kids. They were all bickering about who should be the new Alpha. I was the driver at the time, and I knew I didn’t want to work for any of them, because they were pretentious and rude. Anyway, we had to go to see the lawyer for the will to be read, and as they’re all shrieking that someone got more than they did, the door slammed and everyone’s heads jerked toward the noise. Kinsey strode in and they were like harpies descending on him, demanding to know why he was there, who did he think he was, and stuff like that. He sneered at them, and said, “My name is Kinsey Huxley, and I’m the bodyguard of the new Alpha.”
“Oh, I’m sure that went over great,” I said.
Matt gave a shy grin. “Better than you think. They all started clamoring that he was obviously their bodyguard, while the lawyer kept asking them for quiet so he could read the will. When they started trying to order Kinsey around, he shook his head and said, “What in the hell makes you think any of you shitbags are Alpha? Mr. Tate made it very clear that the Council, not lineage, would choose his successor, and he was adamant it not be any of you.
Matt snickered. “If you thought they were loud before, you should have heard them after that. They were screaming and raving about how their grandfather would never do that to them. Then Kinsey turned, opened the door, and ushered in a young woman. She strode in like she owned the place, and Kinsey stood there with a huge smile on his face. He gestured to the newcomer and said, “Let me introduce you to Kayla Martino. Your new Alpha.”
Jonas snickered. “I’m waiting to hear how bad it got.”
“Ugly bad,” Matt replied. “A fistfight broke out in the office, and the lawyer yelled at Kinsey to stop it. Kinsey shook his head and pointed at Ms. Martino. “I’m her bodyguard, and as long as they stay away from her, they can kill each other as far as I’m concerned.” Then he looked up and saw me, who’d backed into a corner, trying to keep from being pulled into the fray. His whispered something to the new Alpha, his eyes narrowed and nostrils flared. She nodded and Kinsey waded through everyone to get to me, shoving them aside if necessary, knocking two of them off their feet, then hefted me into his arms, and carried me back across the room to where the she stood and put me down beside her. He bent and whispered to me to stay near him, and he’d protect me too. I was in love.”
“So why didn’t you both quit and run away together?” I asked.
Matt’s eyes widened. “We had contracts. His was the standard one. Mine…. Well, I wasn’t exactly indentured, but I was beholden to the Council. My parents went into debt, and they worked it out that I would be in service to the Council for fifteen years.”
My gaze snapped to Jonas. “You fucking have slaves?”
“No!” Matt whispered harshly. “I agreed to it because my family was in deep debt, and they had no way out. In fact, it was me who suggested it. You have to understand. I love my parents more than you can know. They never had much, but they gave me everything. If I could make their lives better by doing this, then it was worth it to me. My mom tried to talk me out of it, and my dad said he’d go in my place. But they also had my brothers and sisters, so one less mouth to feed would help.”
Jonas reached for Matt’s hand. “You do for everyone, don’t you?”
Matt’s cheeks flushed. “I like to make people smile. It’s probably one of my greatest joys in life.”
“Then why are you a chauffeur? Why not do something where you can make everyone happy? Like, say, working as a barista in a coffeeshop?”
“Oh, I couldn’t,” Matt said. “I’m all thumbs and have two left feet. Kinsey always….he…”
And the tears started again. Matt scrubbed a hand over his eyes and gave a pitiful look.
“I’m sorry, it’s just….”
“No, I’m sorry, Matt,” Jonas said. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
He shook his head. “It’s okay. I just….until I met Corey, Kinsey was the only person who ever really saw me, you know? Whenever we’d end up at the same job, he protected me as much as he was able. I always thought he had a white knight complex going, you know, take care of the helpless? But he told me that I should never listen to anyone but him. He swore he’d never lie to me, and even if it hurt he’d tell me the truth.”
Jonas stood. “Okay, you know what? I’m going to find out how he’s doing.”
He marched to the counter and leaned in to speak to one of the nurses. Meanwhile, I sat beside Matt and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “We’re going to be okay, Matt. I promise you.”
He shook his head. “If something happens to Kinsey, I don’t want to be okay. I want to go with him.”
It took several moments for me to wrap my head around what he was saying. “No.”
“Yes. I can’t live in a world that Kinsey isn’t in.”
What was I supposed to say? I couldn’t offer some useless platitude that would make everything better. I couldn’t tell him how important he was, because only Kinsey made him feel that way.
“I…understand,” I told him. “When Jonas disappeared, I had dark days. Thoughts about how could I go on without him. When I was at my lowest, I’d often considered options I would never have given thought to otherwise.”
Matt turned to me. “And what did you do?”
I shrugged. “I pushed on, because I knew that Jonas would want me to. What do you think Kinsey would say if you told him this?”
A plump lower lip jutted out. “He’d tell me he’d kick my ass. He’s forever telling me how important I am, and if I were to give up and let go, he’d be…angry and disappointed.”
“Then keep that in mind before you make any kind of decision, okay? I won’t tell you what to think, because I don’t know your mind. I do know that I would miss you terribly. You’re like my brother, if I had one. Before you do anything, come talk to me, okay? Let me see if I can help.”
He nodded. A moment later, Jonas came back, his expression dark like a storm cloud.
“He’s still in surgery. The bullet did a lot of internal damage, but the doctors are sure he’ll recover. He’s a strong wolf.”
“And he’s got something to live for,” I added.
“Would you like to know what Kinsey told me?” Jonas asked Matt.
“Yes, please, Alpha.”
Jonas took his seat again and leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “He said that he was grateful to us for giving you a home. Watching you, always being on the outside looking in, was hard for him, because he couldn’t do anything about it. When the two of you came here, and Corey said he wanted you both as pack, that smile he saw on your face was worth everything to him.”
“Yeah. And to know that he could finally be open about his feelings was even better. He loves you, and he’s going to show you by getting better.”
A man in white scrubs came out of a door marked ‘Surgery’. He wore a grim expression that spoke of exhaustion.
Matt squeezed my hand hard. “Yes?”
The doctor breathed out, and Matt relaxed slightly. “I’m Doctor Weber. We’ve moved Mr. Huxley to recovery. The procedure was a success. Admittedly, it was mostly because Mr. Huxley seems to have such a strong will, but I’d like to think our surgical staff had something to do with it.” He smiled, and it was nice. Definitely warm and caring. “So, yes, he’s going to be fine. In fact, if you’d like, I can take you in to see him. I doubt he’ll be coming out from under anesthesia for a while, but it never hurts to have family around.”
“Yes, please,” Matt whimpered.
He clutched my hand tight as we followed behind the doctor. He led us through the maze of stark white corridors, the scent of antiseptic strong in my nose. When we got to the room, Matt was a bundle of nerves. He stroked a hand over his hair, but the cowlick bounced back.
“Do I look okay?”
“Perfect,” I told him, doing my best to give him an encouraging smile.
We entered the room, and Kinsey lay there, tubes and wires attached to every part of his body. Matt gasped, and I pulled him into a hug.
“It’s okay. They’re just being cautious.”
Matt nodded and went to stand at the side of the bed.
“Don’t stay too long. He needs rest for his body to continue healing,” the doctor told us.
“Yes, sir. Thank you,” Matt said, not sparing the man a glance. The only one he could see was Kinsey.
As soon as the door closed, Matt leaned in and brushed a kiss over Kinsey’s forehead.
“You missed my lips,” Kinsey croaked, his voice brittle.
“Kinsey….” Matt bawled, as he clutched the bed rail so tight, his fingers were nearly white.
“You’re okay, right?” he asked, opening his eyes and staring up at Matt.
“I’m…” Matt shook his head harshly, his hair swishing. “No, I’m not. I was so scared. I thought I was going to lose you.”
“Never happen. I made you a promise remember? I’ll always be by your side.”
Matt looked as though he was about to break down, and he’d shed enough tears today. I couldn’t have that anymore. “Kinsey?” I called. “You’re fired.”
He didn’t stop staring at Matt when he said, “Can’t fire me. I quit. I have someone who needs me more than you do.”
“But he has to have a bodyguard,” Matt protested.
“I have one,” I assured him. “Jonas will do the job just fine.”
“You need him more, Matt.”
“But the Council…”
“Can go suck lemons,” I said. “You’re our pack now, and they have nothing to say about how we conduct our business.” I turned to Jonas. “They don’t, right?”
He grinned at me. “As long as our people are happy, no. Matt? Are you happy?”
The tears I worried about came then. “Yes, so much. Thank you both.”
“So will you marry me?” Kinsey whispered.
“In a heartbeat.”
He turned to me. “Can you make it happen?”
“Here? In the hospital?” I asked, flabbergasted.
Kinsey’s gaze returned to Matt. “I’ve waited years for this, and after tonight, I won’t wait one more day.”
The look on his face. Determination, pain, hope. Great, now I was tearing up. “Yeah, we can make it happen.” I gave Jonas a nod. “Make it happen.”
He chuckled, leaned in, and kissed me on the cheek. “Right away, dear.”
Then he left the room, snickering as he closed the door. Matt turned to me. “Corey? Would you be here for it?”
“Dude, wild horses and all.” I put a hand on his back and rubbed gently. “I would be honored.”
And just like that, it was as if the world exhaled a breath it had been holding.
I had always known Corey was going to be the perfect Alpha Mate. It was obvious from the way he treated people. Once in school, Terry Pritchard’s mother had gone into labor, and was rushed to the hospital. Terry’s dad had been at work. We were eight. The neighbor kept an eye on Terry until the bus came, but when lunchtime rolled around, he realized in all the hubbub he didn’t get a lunch. Corey told him he had two, and gave him his brown paper bag.
Corey had lied. He had nothing for himself. I tried to give him mine, but he refused, saying he’d done it because it was the right thing to do. I went home and got into a shouting match with my father, because no kid should ever have to go hungry, and if the pack was so rich, why was this happening? He tried to tell me it was the parent’s responsibility, and I told him not everyone was as lucky as I was, and he should pay more attention.
A month later, he announced that breakfast and lunch would be served to all kids, free of charge. Dad credited me, and more than a few people had come to me and said thanks, because with the large families some of them had, it was tough at times.
I told him later it was Corey that got the ball rolling. I was so damned proud of my mate, and I knew that when we grew up, and I was Alpha, Corey would take damn good care of our people. And for years, he had without even realizing it was part of who he was. So why was someone trying to kill him?
“Dennis, hi. I’m sorry to bother you. Are you busy?”
“For you, no.” He chuckled. “What’s up?”
“I need you to perform a wedding. Like now.”
“You and Corey?”
“No, not yet. Soon, though, I hope. This will be Kinsey and Matt. Did you hear what happened?”
“I know Kinsey got hurt. Is he okay?”
“Yeah, and he’s in the hospital, but he wants to get married right away. Can you do that?”
“Of course. I’ll be there within the hour.”
“Great. Thank you.”
“Is it okay if I bring some people with me? To stand as witnesses. Usually we do joining as a pack, and I don’t want anyone feel slighted.”
Was it? If Corey was in danger, did I want a lot of people around?
“It can’t be too many. I don’t think the hospital would approve.”
It wasn’t a lie, but not the whole truth either. I was comfortable with it, regardless. Corey was threatened twice, and if it came from the pack, I would—no. He trusted his pack. They had Corey’s back when I was away. They could have easily done something while he was alone and unprotected. Why now? It didn’t make any sense at all. Then there was that familiar scent. Like pack, but not. A relative, maybe?
I turned to find Corey, and every protective instinct surged within me. I reached for him, grabbed his forearm, and dragged him to my body.
“Well…not saying this is unwelcome, but should we be doing this in the hospital?”
Still, he sank into my embrace, even as he wrapped his arms around my waist.
“I’ve got Dennis coming shortly to perform the joining.”
“Matt asked me to be there.”
“As Alpha Mate, you should be.” I kissed Corey’s hair. It was soft, and smelled faintly of vanilla shampoo. “That could be us one day.”
I pulled back, maybe a little hurt. “You don’t want to marry me?”
He chuckled. “No, I’m saying it will be us one day. There’s no could about it. When we were little, I used to fantasize about being married to you. This was before I knew about anyone in the town. You’d come home from work, all tired, and I would have you lay on the couch and rub your feet.”
“Got a thing for feet?” I teased.
“Only yours. It was weird. I could see us so clearly. Well, except you were still this skinny geek and not the hulking monster you are now.”
“Are you disappointed in the changes? Would you prefer me different?”
“Nope. It wasn’t your body I loved, it was the person you are. Good and kind, funny, considerate. That’s the Jonas I fell in love with. This? It’s window dressing. Really hot window dressing, but that’s neither here nor there.”
Before I could say anything else, Dennis’s party came down the hall. He smiled and waved, and I returned the gesture. Corey moved away from me, strode up to him, hand extended, and was pulled into a hug. I winced, but had to trust in my pack. If I didn’t, we had no future.
“I’m so happy you’re okay, Alpha Mate.”
“Just Corey, please.”
“Okay, Corey.” Dennis seemed inordinately pleased to have been addressed in such familiar terms. “Where are my grooms?”
I pointed to Kinsey’s room, and we made our way there. When we entered, Matt was sitting at Kinsey’s bedside, stroking his hair. He turned and smiled up at me.
“He’s sleeping. He passed out a minute after you—”
“Resting my eyes, not sleeping,” came the rumble.
“Liar,” Matt said, but his expressive face showed the delight that Kinsey was awake.
“Are you ready to be married?” Dennis asked, his grin infectious.
“Have been for years,” Kinsey replied. He tried to sit up, but Matt put a hand on his shoulder to hold him in place.
“Then let’s see what we can do about that, huh? I’m going to make this simple, because I don’t want Kinsey not passing out again before we get to the good stuff.”
Kinsey’s lip curled. “I’ll be out of this bed soon, Dennis.”
“And I can still run faster than any other wolf here, so I’m not afraid.” He moved to the bed. “Matt, will you have Kinsey to be your husband? To love him, cherish him, and be one with him from now until we are all called home?”
“Yes, without question.”
“Kinsey? Will you take Matt—”
“Yes. Fuck, yes.”
Tears leaked down Kinsey’s cheeks. “Kinsey?” I called, not used to seeing emotions on the man.
“It’s real, right? He’s mine? Like I’m not dreaming?”
“No, he’s yours.”
His gaze drifted back to his now-husband. “Matt, I—I love you so fucking much.”
“Kiss the man, Kinsey. Let’s make this official.”
Kinsey winced when he reached up and curled his fingers in Matt’s hair, then pulled him down. The kiss wasn’t soft or delicate, it was claiming in much the same way Jonas had done with me.
“And with that, I pronounce the two of you joined. Congratulations.”
Matt sat up. “Thank you.”
“Now get out,” Kinsey growled. “All of you.”
Everyone laughed as we made our way to the door. Before I closed it, I stood and smiled as Kinsey pulled Matt onto the narrow bed, sighing when Matt wound around him gently and laid his head on Kinsey’s shoulder. He glanced up at me and mouthed ‘thank you’.
Yes. I trusted my pack with my life. Someone else was responsible, and I would figure out who.