The Return: Chapter Sixteen
“Why isn’t he here yet?” I demanded. My heart was hurting, thinking about him being in the hospital, and not being there to hold his hand.
That was easy for him to say. The person he loved was beside Kinsey on the couch, his hands folded in his lap.
“Matt, I want to go back to—”
I glared at Kinsey. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me. You’re not going anywhere. Alpha Jonas told me I needed to keep you here, and that’s exactly what I’m intending on doing.”
“Matt, I want to go back to town.”
It was a bad position to put Matt in, and I knew it.
“Corey, maybe you should—”
I thrust my hand out. “Then give me the goddamn keys, and I’ll drive back myself!”
“N-no, I’ll drive—”
Matt started to stand, but Kinsey reached out and grabbed his wrist. “No, you won’t. Jonas said you needed to stay here with us.”
I rose to my full, very unimpressive height. “Am I or am I not the Alpha Mate?”
“You are, but Jonas’s words supersede yours.”
There was actual regret in Kinsey’s words. All I had to do was shut my mouth to hear them. I went and slumped beside Matt.
“I am so sorry,” I ground out. “I know you’re doing what you have to.”
Matt leaned in and gave me a hug. It was nice, but it wasn’t Jonas. Still, he was making an effort, so I had to be appreciative. When the door opened, I was out of my seat before the footsteps sounded. I got to the door, and wanted to burst into tears. Jonas was here, and I could tell he’d been beat to shit. There was bruises on his face, his clothes had burn holes in them, and his hair was matted with ash and water.
He’d never looked more beautiful to me than he did right now. I jumped in his arms, and he grabbed me tight, burying his face in my neck.
“It’s okay,” he whispered. “I’m here.”
I couldn’t help the damned tears. “I thought…. I thought….”
Then came the shivers that coursed through me as all of the terrible images I’d had forced their way to the front of my mind. Every one of them ended with me standing by Jonas’s gravestone, missing out on the life we were building.
“Shh, everything is fine,” he soothed, as he stroked a hand down my back. “I swear, Core, you’re fine.”
“Me? I was worried about you!” I shouted, doing my best to pull away.
Jonas didn’t let me go, and he ignored my surge of anger. It took several minutes, but it finally began to leach out of me. Being held in Jonas’s arms helped more than anything.
“You stink,” I said.
“I know,” came the soft reply, as Jonas nuzzled my hair. “Did you take that bath?”
“I couldn’t. I was too worried.”
“How about if we take one together?”
Yes, please. Anything to prove to me that he was here, safe and healthy. “I’d like that.”
Before I could say anything else, Jonas scooped me into his arms. “We’ll be back later,” he called out.
Jonas stopped and turned to Kinsey. “Yeah?”
“Thank you for coming back to us.”
That got a smile. “Thank you for taking care of Corey.”
Kinsey gave a terse nod. “We’ll always take care of him, I promise.”
We got to the bathroom, and Jonas sat me on the toilet seat. I was about to stand when he turned and frowned at me.
“Don’t move,” he ordered.
“I wanna help.”
He turned on the taps, then came and knelt beside me, taking my hand in his. “You are helping, I promise. You’re here safe, where I can keep an eye on you.” He leaned against me. “If it means anything, I was doing a lot of ‘what-if’ thinking too.”
It did. I was glad to know I wasn’t the only one with a brain that wouldn’t quit. Jonas put his hands on my shoulders, and when I looked up at him, he was smiling as he peered into my eyes.
“Every moment I spend with you is a gift. I’ve felt that way since we were kids. The day you walked into school, so scared, it was like…. I don’t even know how to describe it. Kinda like sticking my finger into a thousand light sockets during an electrical storm. You were awe inspiring.”
I snorted. “I don’t think I inspire awe in anyone.”
“You do, but you won’t let yourself see it. People in the pack are grateful you’re here, because you settle us. You have an ear and a hand to lend to anyone who needs help. I protect the pack from things outside, but you? You’re the one who guards them here. Our jobs are equally important, because neither of us could do it without the other. You might not believe it, but the people in the pack look to you for so much, and as you become more comfortable in your role, they’ll reach out to you even more.”
For some reason, that didn’t scare me as much as I thought it would. These were my people, even if all of them could become something I’d never be. I was lost in thought for several long moments, then I noticed Jonas lifting my arms and sliding my shirt off. He let his fingers trail down my chest, his eyes alight.
“You are the most perfect thing I’ve ever seen, you know,” he whispered.
“I’m no one special,” I assured him.
“You have no idea of your worth. To me. To our pack. To everyone who’s met you.”
I knew it wasn’t true. When we were younger, I was picked on for being…well, apparently for being human, but they couched it with me being gay. After I found out what the people in Harken’s Corners were, it made me laugh that they didn’t give a damn I was gay, it was because I was human.
Jonas turned off the taps, and scented steam rose from the water. “That’s nice,” I said. “Warm and sweet. Very woodsy.”
“I ordered it overnight,” Jonas explained. “I wanted something that would appeal to you so you’d let me get you in the tub.”
“If you’re going to be with me, I’ll be more than happy to take a bath.”
“It’s a date.” He grinned as his eyes raked over me. “I can’t believe you’re finally mine.”
“Oh, I’ve always been yours. You don’t know how many times I wanted to drag you into my room and offer you a blow job.”
“Why didn’t you?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I wanted to, but it didn’t seem like you were interested in me.”
“Believe me, I was. It’s just…. If we’d done that, it probably would have triggered the change way earlier, and I would have likely ended up hurting you. Worse, you’d have found out what I was. Imagine having a furry dick in your mouth.”
He was making light of it, but I could sense his nerves. “I keep telling you, your wolf wouldn’t have bothered me.” I chuckled. “I admit, I don’t want to have sex with him. Well, maybe your third form. That was kind of hot.”
“Am I? You didn’t see what I did. Your third form made your human look downright puny by comparison. So many muscles.”
He grabbed me and pulled me close. “And now I’m fucking jealous of my wolf.”
That made me laugh. “Don’t be. I prefer the human because he has lips I can kiss.” He bent and I kissed him deep. It wasn’t a sexual kiss, but one that I needed to remind him we were both okay. When I pulled back, Jonas picked me up and carried me to the tub.
“I’m not a child, you know.” God, please don’t ever put me down.
“I know. I like carrying you, is that going to be a problem?”
Not for me. “Nope.”
“Good. Get your ass in the tub.”
I saluted, then turned and dipped a toe in the water. It was hot, but not scalding. It only took a few moments for me to get used to the temperature, and I sank into the antique clawfoot tub up to my neck.
“Mmmm, this is nice,” I murmured. Then I noticed Jonas stripping. “But that’s even nicer. Put on a show for me, slave boy. Dance.”
He yanked off his shirt and tossed it aside. His chest, broad and hairy, rippled as he tightened the muscles.
“Like what you see?” he teased.
“Love it,” I managed to gasp out.
He slid out of his pants and underwear, and I noticed his thick cock hanging down.
“You’re not hard,” I mentioned.
“Um….no. I mean, I could get hard, if you wanted.”
But I didn’t. Not today. “Nah, get in here with me. Your back to my chest.”
He frowned. “I wanted to wash you.”
“Well, too bad. I called it first.”
He smirked. “I remember that from when we were little.”
“Seriously, get in.”
He did as I asked, and it wasn’t long before he was snuggled up against me. I cupped some water in my hands and drew it up and over his chest, letting it sluice down. Then I reached out for the washcloth and shower gel. I poured a liberal amount onto the cloth, inhaling the rich aroma.
“You have great taste in bath stuff,” I told him as I put the cloth on his chest and rubbed slow, gentle circles. When he sighed and sagged against me, it meant everything to me.
“You have nice hands,” he said.
We didn’t talk for a bit as I washed his shoulders, his back, his stomach. With every swipe, the tension in his muscles drained away.
“I was so scared,” he said finally. “All I could picture was you trapped in the building, and not able to get out. It…almost froze me in place, I was so panicked.”
He squeezed my knee. “No, let me finish. Please. My dad said that an Alpha puts his pack above all, but that’s not true. If my mom or I were in a burning building, he would have thrown everything else aside to save us. Or at least I hope so. I know I told you we had to think about the pack first, but it was a distant second to you. I couldn’t think of anything else until I saw Kinsey was with you.”
I noticed he was shivering, so I wrapped my arms around him.
“I can’t lose you, Core. If I did, I’d go nuts, and they’d probably have to put me down for the safety of the pack.”
Put him…. “What the hell does that mean?”
He sighed and snuggled against me. “Sometimes wolves go feral. They lose themselves in their form, and we can’t get them back out. They’ll attack anyone, even an Alpha, because they feel this is their area. That would be me if something happened to you.”
“Oh, that’s crap! You can’t lay shit like that on me. I lost you, and I didn’t think I’d ever get you back. Did I go insane and shoot anyone who crossed my path? No. I sucked it up and dealt with it as best as I could.” I kneaded his shoulders, pushing my thumbs into the knotted muscles, which made him groan. “Life goes on, and you know it. You survived without me for six years, so I’m sure you’d be able to get by if something happened to me.”
“Anyone could die tomorrow in a freak accident. When it’s time, it’s time. There’s no way around it. Don’t get me wrong, it would suck, but there are people here to lean on. You have all your friends, your family. They would help you through the rough times, just like I hope they’d do for me.”
Jonas dipped his chin, and his voice dropped to a croaking whisper. “It’s different for wolves. When we mate, and I mean a true mate, there will never be anyone else for us. It wouldn’t matter how many people were around, the wolf would die of a broken heart. I only survived being separated from you because I knew you were alive and healthy, and I’d be able to get back to you one day.”
“Oh.” And more information that I wished I’d known in advance. “Is that a given? There’s no way around it?”
He grinned and pulled me to him, sloshing water onto the floor. Moving was awkward, but we made it work. “I wouldn’t want there to be a way around it. When I gave you my bite, it made us as close as two people could be. No one could tell where you started and I ended. I only know one true mate couple, and they’re like one person. Their love is obvious to anyone who looks at them. That’s what I want us to be. For someone to look at you and know you’re in love.”
His eyes twinkled. “Trust me, they’re gonna know.”
We sat there, me in his arms, until the water got too cold to be comfortable. Well, for me. It didn’t bother Jonas in the least. Still, when we got out, he dried us off, then carried me to the bed, placed me down, then crawled in beside me and snuggled against me.
We’d had intimacy and we’d had sex, but every time we were together, it was like we’d reached a deeper level, if that makes sense. Jonas was out within seconds. I could still detect a faint smell of smoke, but decided it was from his clothes. My heartbeat raced, thinking about what I could have lost, and I clutched him a little bit tighter.
Something woke me, but I couldn’t be sure what it was. Corey lay in my arms, his face buried in my chest. I squeezed him a bit tighter, then closed my eyes again, already nearly asleep.
I was up and out of bed before the echo died away. Outside the room I could hear Kinsey ordering Matt to get down and not move, then rapid footfalls thudded across the floor a moment before the front door slammed. I was torn between following after Kinsey and pulling Corey down to the floor and covering him with my body. That was settled when he rushed by me and out of the bedroom door.
“What the hell? Where are you going?”
“To see what’s going on! I might be able to help!”
The ‘duh’ was obvious. I caught him bicep before he was able to follow behind Kinsey.
“Stop. You’re staying in the house. Go into Matt’s room and keep an eye on him. I can smell his fear.”
“Then you’d better get after Kinsey. He can’t be out there alone.”
“He’s not. There are others patrolling the grounds and—”
He thrust a hand toward the door. “Go!”
Corey ran to Matt and I made my way to the door. I could hear Corey murmuring it would be okay. I wondered if he realized how needed he was yet. As soon as I got outside, I closed and locked the door for an extra layer of protection. Kinsey’s anger was palpable, as he shifted and ran through the yard, nose raised, sniffing everything. Fortunately I was naked, so shifting took no time at all, and then I was doing the same as Kinsey.
It was nearly impossible to separate the scents that covered the grounds of the pack house. I could smell every person Kinsey had brought in to guard the grounds, Corey, Matt, Kinsey, and…wait. There was someone else. It was faint, but definitely there. Familiarity zipped into my brain. I knew this scent. I’d smelled it a long time ago, but where? Another shot rang out, and it was followed by Corey’s cry.
“Jonas!” came Corey’s sharp call.
There was panic in his voice, and I took off at full speed headed for the house. When I got there, he was holding Matt tight. His lips were bluish, his pupils huge, his breaths were coming in gasps, and I could hear his heart hammering.
“I think he’s in shock,” Corey said, stroking Matt’s hair.
“Matt? What’s wrong?”
He threw his head back, eyes wild, and screamed, “Kinsey!”
I turned back to the door. I could smell the blood, sharp and coppery. Fuck, no. I raced back outside and found Kinsey facedown about thirty feet from the house. There was a hole in his back and I couldn’t be sure if he was breathing. I turned him over, then lifted him as I yelled for Corey to call 911, then started for the driveway. I didn’t want Matt seeing Kinsey like this.
Matt’s wailing grew louder, verging on hysteria. Around me other men converged. One of them tried to take Kinsey from me and I snarled at him. He got the idea and backed off.
How had this gone so wrong? Why was someone after Corey? The siren was only a few blocks away. Nice thing about Harken’s Corners was there was little need for medical personnel, but we’d been giving them a workout. The ambulance screeched to a halt, and Elias and Jake got out, grabbed the gurney, and rolled it over to us. They took Kinsey from my arms and laid him gently on the conveyance.
They worked for close to twenty minutes, with Jake talking to the doctor as Elias hooked Kinsey up to a blood bag. Seeing him this way was sobering. Corey was right, you never knew when a precious life could be taken from you.
“How’s he doing?” I asked when Jake hung up the radio.
“Thready. He’s lost too much blood, and is having problems breathing. The bullet pierced his lung, then blew out the other side. From the angle of the exit wound, my best guess is it might have ricocheted off some bones too.”
“Will he be okay?” The frown told me everything I needed to know. “Do what you can.”
“Of course, Alpha.”
He gave me a sharp nod, then went back to help tend to Kinsey. I returned to the house, and found Matt sobbing into Corey’s chest. When Corey peered up at me, I went to them both and knelt down, putting my hand on Matt’s shoulder.
“He’s in good hands, Matt.”
Matt turned to me, his face shiny from tears, sweat, and probably a good helping of snot.
“He can’t die. He just can’t.”
“He’ll be all right, Matt. You’ll see,” Corey said, while staring into my eyes. “We should go to the hospital with Matt.”
I was about to protest, but Corey’s glare stilled me. It dared me to argue about this with him. Wisely, I decided not to.
“C’mon, let’s go.”
Matt stood, his legs nearly giving out. If Corey hadn’t been holding him up, he’d have collapsed. “Let me get my keys.”
No way in hell was he in any shape to be driving. “I’ll take us,” I told him.
He wanted to argue, but Corey squeezed his shoulder. “Let your Alpha care for you, okay?”
Matt nodded, tears on his cheeks. “What am I going to do?”
Corey pulled him into a tight hug. “It’s going to work out, I swear.”
I could only hope he was prophetic.