Chapter 1: Zander
“She’s my mate,” I said again, a little louder this time, pointing to the human standing by a car.
Averie looked shocked and I’d never seen Kane speechless, at least not with anything that didn’t have to do with his mate.
Looking at her, I could smell her scent, jasmine and vanilla, and it was enticing, making my mouth water.
“She’s human,” Kane whispered.
“Shit,” Carter mumbled.
“Oh Goddess,” Averie said.
That’s when I saw what she saw. My beautiful mate with her wave of curly brown hair, and her heavy, full figure, turned.
My mate was pregnant.
Suddenly, Kane was in front of me. “Do you have James under control?” He asked.
Human mates were complicated at best, terrifying at worst. They could feel the mate bond, but they couldn’t understand it. Most of the rejections that happened were because of human mates.
Claim her! James shouted at me. He’d been waiting for a mate as long as I had, longer technically since he’d been waiting since he’d been on the wolves’s first plain with the goddess.
We can’t. I argued. She’s pregnant.
I’d never felt James so angry in my entire life. It took more effort than it ever had to keep him at bay. My eyes glowed; I could feel it. The blue color would be close to aquamarine with him at the surface.
“Zander,” Kane growled. There was only one time a wolf wouldn’t submit to the will of their alpha, and that was if anything had to do with their mate. “Do you have your wolf under control?”
“Yes,” I bit out. My fists clenched together and I dug my hands into my skin, my nails lengthening slightly into claws.
“Look at me.” Turning my head, I lifted my eyes to his. “I have no idea what you must be feeling, but you need to keep it together. She’s human and she’s pregnant.” I could only nod. I watched as she shut her car door and walked back into the diner, her little body waddling slightly because of her protruding stomach. “We will go, and we will sit and eat at the restaurant and learn everything we can about her. Understood?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Let’s go.” Kane grabbed Averie’s hand and pulled her towards the entrance. I lagged behind a little, attempting to slow my breathing while Carter gave me a sympathetic look.
What were the odds that I’d been searing for her for months, travelling all over the country to every pack we knew of and even finding a few that we’d never heard of only to come back and have her be here, hiding under my nose the entire time. But that wasn’t quite true either. She was the only human around. Did she already know about us? Or had it just been the Goddesses’s work getting her here. The child she was carrying wasn’t a wolf, that much I could tell.
Was she married? Engaged? Just seeing someone?
The irony of me being the one to wait for her to have sex wasn’t lost on me. Averie had waited for Kane, but he’d been sleeping around while he waited for her. I’d looked down on him for it, but there I was with a human mate who clearly hadn’t waited for me.
The human world is different. James said in my head. It seemed like he had himself under control. But sitting here in the diner with her scent so close was going to be torture for both of us.
Kane took in the surroundings of the diner, but I knew what he was doing; he was making sure we were going to sit where we’d have to get waited on by my mate. Once he found her, his eyes went to an empty table next to the one she was waiting on. I followed behind him and Averie, sitting opposite them in the booth, and sliding in next to Carter on the outside. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.
“Stop staring,” Averie mumbled while looking at the menu in front of her. They were always left on the table, but we didn’t need them. We always knew what we were going to order, and if we didn’t, we knew the menu by heart.
“I can’t help it,” I mumbled. “She’s perfect.” She wasn’t like anything I’d ever pictured her to be. She was shorter, thicker, not a wolf. But she was perfect. She was perfect because the Goddess had chosen her for me.
“Hi,” she said. I was entranced by her voice; it was melodic and slightly high. I’d pictured it to be raspier in my ears. “I’m Addison.”
Addison. James’s voice echoed in my ears.
It suits her. I told him to which he nodded his wolf head.
“I’ll be taking care of you today. Can I start y’all with something to drink?”
“I’ll have a sprite and a strawberry milkshake,” Averie ordered.
“I’ll have an orange soda and a chocolate cookies and cream shake,” Kane ordered his usual.
“Vanilla shake for me and a coke please,” Carter ordered.
“And for you?” My mate asked, turning so she was looking at me. Her brown eyes widened a little when she looked at me. The instant attraction was the mate bond at work. I saw the way her breath hitched and she cleared her throat, attempting to be unaffected.
“A coke please,” I stated. “And a peanut butter chocolate shake.” Her hand was shaking as she wrote down what I’d ordered. It hadn’t been doing that when she’d been speaking to Kane and Averie or Carter. At least I knew she wasn’t immune to the mate bond.
“S-sure,” she stuttered out a little nervously. “Do y’all want food too or just the shakes?”
“Food too, but we’re not ready yet,” I answered. I wanted to drag as many interactions as possible out of sitting in this booth.
“I’ll be back then,” she smiled softly before turning and walking away. I couldn’t help but watch her go.
“She felt something,” Averie said.
“What are you going to do?” Kane asked.
“This is complicated,” Carter said adding his opinion. But it was obvious things were going be complicated, even more complicated than they’d been for Averie and Kane.
“I have no idea,” I admitted. Every wolf had a version in their head of what would happen when they met their mate. I almost never came true, but still, it was always there. Some dreamed of meeting when they were both in wolf form, when we felt like our truest selves. Others dreamed of meeting at a pack meeting or one of the many balls that were held to allow high ranking wolves to search for their mates. The smell was alway the first thing that alerted a wolf to the nearby presence of their mate.
I’d always imagined running in the forest, picking up the smell and tracing it until I found a beautiful wolf, her color changed depending on my mood and when I was thinking about it, but she was always in wolf form while I was in my human skin. She’d sit down, looking at me with her head tilted to the side trying to figure out if it was really, finally happening. Slowly I’d approach her. She’d lay on her stomach first and then roll to her back, showing her submission to me. I’d inspect her form from snout to tail and eventually, she’d shift, showing me her human beauty.
But that was the farthest thing from what could happen now.
My mate didn’t have a wolf.
How would James feel about that? I’d have to ask him when we went for a run later. We would need it after meeting her and not being able to at least let her know that we were mates. I’d always dreamed that my mate would beg me to at least mark her the very second we met, if not mark and mate.
“Here are your drinks,” Addison said setting them down in the correct order. “It’ll be just a few minutes for the milkshakes. Do you know what you want to order?”
Every time she came close to me, her scent hit me like a ton of bricks, abusing my senses and making me want to push my nose into her neck and inhale deeply.
That’s not creepy at all.
I ignored James and watched Averie and Kane order a ridiculous amount of food before Carter did the same. Addison was the only being in this place that wasn’t a werewolf or didn’t know about them.
“Goodness,” she said softly. “What do they put in the water here? Y’all can eat.”
“The food here is just that good,” Averie said quickly. “We don’t eat like that all the time.”
Addison smiled a little at her and their interaction had my heart beat picking up. If Addison accepted me as her mate-
When. When she accepts.
When, I amended my thoughts for James. When she accepted me she would be the beta female and her duties wouldn’t be like the Luna’s but they would still work closely together, similar to the way Kane and I did.
But I wasn’t as optimistic as James. There were two very big obstacles. She was pregnant. She was a pregnant human. I needed to know if there was a man in her life.
That knowledge had somehow given me the power to be able to tread very, very lightly. But how long would that self control last?
“And for you?” My mate’s voice came out harshly.
“What?” I asked, blinking my eyes at her.
“You were totally spaced out,” she said.
“Oh. Sorry,” I offered her my best smile. “Can I have a double bbq bacon burger, chicken club sandwich, curly fries and mozzarella sticks?”
“Sure thing,” she said jotting everything down.
“How are you not freaking out?” Kane asked when she’d walked away.
“I have no idea,” I told him. “Shock?”
“That makes sense,” Averie offered.
“But she’s pregnant,” Carter pointed out even though it was abundantly clear to all of us. “What if she’s got a boyfriend or a husband?” I hadn’t noticed a ring on her finger.
“I don’t know,” I grit out, my voiced filled with annoyance. I’d thought about that for less than three seconds before going back to just being ecstatic to have found her.
“Here are your shakes,” Addison said, coming back up to the table. “Your food will be out shortly.” She didn’t give us time to say anything before she was off and helping another table.
“I need to find out more about her,” I said.
“Leave that to me,” Averie said. Kane and I both looked at her questioningly. “Trust me. She’ll be friendlier and way less likely to be creeped out by invasive questions if they come from me.”
Instead of trying to reason with her, I decided to let her take the lead. One thing I’d learned from watching her with Kane, she was usually right, even if I could never tell my alpha that.
I sipped my milkshake, my eyes never leaving my mate, unless she disappeared through the back for something. I studied everything about her. The way she walked, the way she smiled. She had a professional smile for the customers but I saw her real one once, the one she gave me when she caught me looking and the one she gave Leigh, the other waitress working that day.
I liked her smile and it had me dying to hear what she’d sound like when she laughed.
When our food arrived, Averie managed to start a conversation with Addison.
Nobody interrupt us. Kane’s voice came through the pack mind link, reaching everyone in the diner. They wouldn’t know what was going on, and the pack members it reached who weren’t in the diner would be confused, but the grapevine would work quickly.
But the rumor mill would make it look like we were interrogating her, which was a lot harsher of a word than I would use.
“Are you new in town?” Averie asked sweetly.
“Got here last week,” Addison answered. I saw her glance around to the other patrons but they were busy pretending to be busy and not needing her.
“You’re so young. Did you move by yourself?”
“Yeah,” she said sadly, her hand on her stomach. “I’m twenty-one.”
“Me too!” Averie said. “I’ll be twenty-two in a month. Maybe you can come to my birthday party.”
“That would be... nice.”
“I don’t mean to pry,” Averie began delicately. “But you’re very obviously pregnant.”
“Seven months,” my mate stated, patting her stomach. Her round cheeks pulled up in a smile, making her eyes crinkle.
“But you moved here alone?”
“Yup. Please don’t ask anything else.” Coming from another person the words would have sounded snarky. Sounded being the key word. They wouldn’t have been because obviously nobody has to answer to the random question of strangers. But she sounded almost pleading.
“Okay,” Averie said, not missing a beat. “When is your next day off? I’d love to show you around town.”
“I’m off on Sunday,” my mate said.
“Oh no. I have plans on Sunday already.” She didn’t. “But maybe Zander could show you around? He’s lived here his whole life. He’s my husband’s best friend. And he’ll know the town better than me. I just moved here last year too.” Kane looked confused by her use of the word husband. They weren’t married, not in the human world, but she couldn’t very well say mate without confusing the hell out of mine.
“So you get what it’s like being a stranger and knowing nobody.”
“What do you say?” I asked. She bit her lip nervously. Subtly, I reached out and slipped my phone in her hand. “You can put your number in my phone if you don’t want to decide right now.” When she inhaled sharply, I knew my subtle touch had done the trick. She’d felt the sparks too. I’d heard about them my entire life, the way it literally feels like a live electric wire.
“How about you put yours in my phone?” She countered. “Then I can think about it.”
I’d take what I could get.
When Addison handed me her phone, I touched her skin again, accidentally very on purpose. Her breath caught in her throat again, barely audible, but to me it was. I could also hear her heartbeat accelerate behind her generous chest.
I typed my name and number into the phone, praying to the Goddess that she’d give into the strange feelings she was having for me. She wouldn’t understand them, not yet anyway, but hopefully she’d want to feel them again.
Too much hoping. Not enough action. James was annoyed. If he had his way out mark would already be on her.
One of us has to have patience. I chastised him.
Truth be told, I didn’t know where all this new found patience was coming from either.
“Well. Your food is probably all cold by now,” she said when I finally handed her phone back to her.
“It’s not your fault,” Averie said. “I’m the one who distracted all of us.”
Averie watched her walk away and nearly squealed when she was gone. “You’re going to be such a good mate!”
“If I get the chance,” I said. “I need to know more.”
“So ask her on Sunday.”
I planned on it. But I also planned on doing something a little reckless and probably stupid but they didn’t need to know about that.
In typical fashion, we inhaled our food.
“I’m impressed with your patience,” Kane said.
“One of us has to be the patient one,” I retorted. That got a little chuckle out of Averie, making me grin and my alpha and best friend. He rolled his eyes at us.
“I thought I was the patient one?” Carter chimed in. He usually was.
“Oh crap,” Averie said. “We should get back to the twins. I need to feed them.”
“You guys go,” I told them. “I’ll pay and then run home. I need it.” They stood from the booth and I let Carter out before sitting back down and waiting for Addison to come back over.
“Everyone abandon you?” She asked.
“Kane and Averie had to get back to their twins,” I told her.
“They’ve got kids? She’s so young.”
I raised my eyebrow at her, as if to point out the fact that she was also very, very pregnant.
“And Carter had a meeting,” he needed to get back to. She nodded while we both ignored her kids comment while she was pregnant and the same age as Averie. “Here,” I said handing her two one-hundred dollar bills.
“I’ll be right back with your change.”
“Keep it,” I said.
“That’s too much,” she said.
“Keep it,” I said again.
“T-thank you,” she stuttered out. Truthfully everyone in the pack were good tippers. And once they figured out who she was, it would be even more outrageous until I finally claimed her and convinced her to quit her job.
“Hopefully I’ll see you Sunday,” I said.
“Y-yeah,” she said. I offered her a smile before leaving. I walked a little further into the woods than usual before ditching my clothes and shifting. I was in desperate need of a run. Hidden naked in the trees, I imagined my wolf. In just over five seconds; I was transformed, bones broken and reformed, standing on four paws. Shaking my fur, I let my grey with black spots fur raise and fall back against me. Flexing my paws, I crunched the earth beneath them before taking off in the direction of the lake.
Let me. James said. I was reluctant. I’ll stay away from our mate. We both knew he wouldn’t have as much control as me. With that promise, I let him push forward and pick up speed, dipping through the trees, over and under branches as he ran and ran.
By the time he let me back in the foreground, the sun was just starting to set. I’d have to get back to the diner quickly if I wanted to make my plan work. Turning, I ran, thankful for the endurance that came with being a wolf, especially a beta.
I got back just in time. Still hidden in the tree line, I watched my mate exit the diner and climb into a small, beat up car. It started easily, which surprised me given its condition. When she pulled out of the parking lot for the diner she turned towards the direction of the pack house. That was better because it meant that if she needed it, we could protect her better than if she lived on the outskirts of town.
I raced behind the car, staying in the tree line. About three miles up the road she turned onto one of the old dirt roads. It wasn’t much further until she was pulling into a makeshift parking spot and outside of a small house. It was falling apart and I immediately hated that she was living in such conditions. She deserved to be treated like royalty.
In the least creepy way possible, I watched her climb out of her car and unlock the front door. I was happy when I heard it lock again. But it shouldn’t matter. By now, I was sure that everyone in the pack knew that the new human was my mate. Nobody would harm her. Even if she wasn’t my mate, none of the wolves would harm her and there wasn’t a human for miles. She was safe, regardless of the locks on her doors and fact that they wouldn’t stop a wolf.
Goddess, stop rambling. James grumbled.
Ignoring him, I watched as she walked around her house. Quietly, I got closer. When I looked into her bedroom window, I saw her pulling her shirt over her head. As quickly as I’d started to see her body, I turned around, giving her privacy. I wasn’t going to be creepy. I just needed to know more about her.
Once I heard another door open and close, I figured it was safe. Walking around the house, my paws quiet on the earth beneath me, I saw her standing in the kitchen. She’d turned the radio on and was singing along as she cut up vegetables.
She can’t sing at all.
Nope. I answered James.
She seasoned the vegetables before tossing them in the pan and adding some chicken. It smelled pretty good.
Every once in awhile I would hear her murmur something to her baby. Our baby. That’s where my thoughts went. It didn’t matter if someone else had actually fathered them, if she let me claim her, I’d love that little human child as much as I loved the little wolf babies we’d have.
But who was the father?
Where was he?
Why was she all alone?
I didn’t get any of those answers because the only thing my mate did was eat her dinner, then a bowl of ice cream and watch crappy reality television with her feet propped up until she fell asleep on the couch. I wanted to barge inside, carry her to her bed and lay her down in a more comfortable position. Instead, I waited until she finally woke up herself, turned out all the lights and climbed into bed herself.
Only when she was asleep again did I leave.
Tomorrow, I was going to track down all the wolves in the pack who had human mates. I was far out of my element here.
I needed advice.