When we got back to the house and I had Dove situated, unpacking with her things, I slipped away into my room and closed the door. I needed to get away from her. The bond was a growing gravitational force, pulling us closer and closer. If I could limit the amount of exposure we had to one another than maybe I could beat it. There was no law that said true mates had to be together. I had a choice in the matter. It just wasn’t a choice most wanted to make.
If I were a different man with different responsibilities...I pushed those thoughts from my mind before they could take root. I had to navigate this situation carefully. There was more to this then how the two of us were connected. The most important thing was dealing with Dove’s relationship to a real bastard. He was an Alpha. So, killing him would have consequences, even if I was completely justified in doing so. My father would’ve counseled me to be diplomatic but I doubted that would be possible considering everything that had already transpired.
I just needed to think harder. There had to be a solution to this that didn’t end in a war between our two packs. I raked my fingers through my hair, frustration bubbling in my veins. That wasn’t the kind of legacy I wanted to leave behind.
A soft knock on my door broke my thoughts.
I frowned as I glance toward my door, debating whether to respond or not – in the end I chose silence. This distance was for the best. I could sense that she remained on the other side, waiting...maybe hoping for a response. Guilt cut at my insides and my wolf pushed at the barriers of my flesh, but I held firm. A small sigh echoed through the room. I could almost feel Dove’s disappointment striking against my skin like broken glass. I held my breath and a minute later I heard the sound of her walking away.
It took a moment for me to get my wolf to calm down. He’d wanted to chase after our female, but I couldn’t allow that. Maybe later I would let him out for a run through the woods, it had been a couple days – and I could feel the itch to unburden myself from my human flesh. All this business with Dove had complicated most aspects of my life. I sighed as I slipped my shirt over my head and pulled my cell phone from my pocket and set it on the bedside table before dropping into bed.
I instantly regretted that decision. The scent of Dove and our sex still clung to the sheets. I groaned into my pillow as my cock swelled.
I wanted her so bad.
I knew if I went to her...she’d give in. Which only made it harder to resist, but I found the will to remain where I was. Instead, I undid my jeans and pulled my cock free. I gripped it in my hand and began to stroke it, pulling up the image of Dove in my mind. This way was safer, though not nearly as satisfying.
I closed my eyes and imagined her laid out before me. Brown hair a halo around her head, snowy skin flushed pink. Her back would be arched off the bed as I teased her perky nipples between my fingers. The scent of her sex...
My cell phone began to vibrate loudly. Couldn’t I get one moment of peace? I tried to ignore it, but it was no use. The image of Dove slowly faded from my mind. I growled, tucking myself back into my boxers before grabbing my phone.
“Well, we have a problem,” Dace said through the speaker.
I bared my teeth, tightening my grip on my phone. Why should I have expected anything different? My life was a walking shit show as of late. “What’s up?”
“The boys have gathered at the bar for an impromptu meeting. Seems like someone let slip about your girl...”
“She’s not my girl.” I corrected—too fast.
“Whatever you say.” He chuckled. “Anyway, they look pretty worked up. You might want to get down here.”
I should’ve known this would get out but I wanted to be the one to release the information. Now I was playing clean-up and that didn’t look good. I stood up from my bed, grabbing the shirt I had tossed on the floor earlier. “I’ll be there in twenty.”
I let out a growl as I hung up on him. Make that a cold shower.
A half hour later I was dressed and ready to go, making my way out of my room. I walked softly down the hallway, noticing Dove’s door was wide open. I glanced inside, her bag sat on her bed with some clothes laid out. Nothing had been put away as I had expected it to be. I told her that she could make herself at home—even made sure that there was nothing from the past lingering in the old dresser that had once belonged to my grandmother. Maybe I should’ve been happy she wasn’t settling in too much, considering her stay was meant to be a short one. I turned away from the room.
When I neared the edge of the hallway I paused, taking in the sight before me. Dove had situated herself on the couch, beer in hand and a bowl of popcorn on her lap. It was hard not to invest into the image of her comfortable and at peace in my home. It didn’t matter that I knew things between us would come to an end. The bond was a living thing that had its own agenda and its ancient magic was hard to ignore.
I approached hesitantly. “What are you watching?”
Things had been tense between us since this morning and If I was being honest, I hated it. The logical part of me understood the distance was best but the larger part of me just wanted to wrap myself up in her and get lost. Even for a moment, I wanted to be a man without titles and obligations.
Dove jumped and let out a small squeal, spilling some popcorn onto the floor. I smiled, despite myself. She twisted, looking put out as she met my gaze, hand pressed to her heart. “You ass. You nearly gave me a heart attack.”
I chuckled. “Sorry.”
“I’m sure you are.” She didn’t sound too convinced of my sincerity but there was a twinkle of amusement in her eyes.
“So, what are you watching?”
She glanced at the movie menu lighting up the television. “Kill Bill.”
One of my favorites. “Tarantino is always a solid choice.”
Dove nodded, patting the spot on the couch next to her. “Join me?”
“Can’t.” Her shoulders dropped at my response. My own disappointment was overwhelming, surprising me. I’d never been the guy to want to linger with a female unless we were in bed, but with Dove everything was different and new.
Her eyes traced my body, a brow arching up. “You going somewhere?”
“Right, makes sense.” I noticed the way her body went rigid. This other male had obviously done a number on her when she’d been with him. My eyes focused on the bruises that lined her throat, blue and purple fingerprints. My wolf rose up from the darkness of my mind, snapping his teeth and clawing at my skin. I rolled my shoulders as I tried to redirect my train of thought. It was too dangerous to think about those things when I was in Dove’s presence. Losing control, I felt that would only add to the damage that had already been done.
“I should be back in a couple of hours. Enjoy your movie.”
She gave me a weak smile. “I intend too.”
After an awkward silence, I turned from her and walked to the door, opening it.
I looked back over my shoulder, meeting her whiskey eyes.
She hesitated for a moment. “Be safe.”
I held her gaze, something in my chest clenching tight. The concern of a good woman could do strange things to a man. “Always am.” I didn’t linger, locking the door behind me as I left.
Dace was waiting for me outside when I got to the bar, cigarette between his lips. “Took you long enough.” The smoke plumed between us as he tossed it to the ground and stamped it out with his foot.
“Let’s go.” I brushed past him and opened the door, a closed sign posted in the window. I stepped into the room to find quite a few men – twenty or so – from the pack going quiet when I entered the room. This bar was one of the businesses that the pack owned and ran. Which made it easier to get away with moments like this one without drawing too much attention.
“I didn’t know I had called a meeting...”
“You didn’t.” A tall, lanky figure separated from the group. “I did.”
I met Allen’s dark gaze, taking in the run-down look of his clothes. He’d probably just finished his shift at the garage. The grease still stained his hands as if he hadn’t taken the time to wash them. He was a damn good mechanic but he was also one gigantic pain in my ass. He was always starting trouble and sticking his nose where it didn’t belong. It was no real surprise to me that he’d been the one to call this gathering as he’d never been my biggest fan, and it had only gotten worse over time. I did my best not to interact with him but he liked to go out of his way to get my attention. I had a feeling that there was one way this thing would eventually end between us and that was with my teeth buried in his throat.
But for now, I would humor him.
“Is there a problem?”
“Don’t know, been hearin’ things around town.”
I shrugged. “People like to talk.”
“That they do,” he agreed. “But it’s the things they are sayin’ that disturb me.”
“I’m not the conversation police. You don’t like what people say, don’t listen.”
Dace chuckled beside me.
“Seems to me like your tryin’ to hide things.”
“If there was anything for any of you to know I would have shared it.”
“You sure about that?”
There were a few lingering and questioning gazes from the crowd.
“You calling me a liar?” I narrowed my eyes.
“Course not. I just find it interesting that Seth says he saw Dace disposin’ of a body the other day. And Camila came in here today fussin’ about a human girl staying at your house.” He knew what he was doing, trying to sow dissent among the pack. “But you’re here sayin’ that there isn’t anything for us to know.”
“Is that true?” Owen rose up from his seat, confusion written on his face. He’d been the one who had tried to scare her off the other day. “That girl is still at your house?”
“Still?” Allen interjected.
I let my gaze scan the group of men, young and old, they looked to me as their leader. I could lie but that wasn’t the kind of Alpha or man I wanted to be. There was a glimmer of shame in my heart, knowing they would feel betrayed after everything they’d been through. I breathed in deep, ready to own up to my decision to protect Dove, no matter how selfish that choice had been. “It’s true.”
I crossed my arms over my chest as the surprise and suspicion worked through the crowd of males.
“What about the body?” Seth stood up.
Dace glanced in my direction. I cleared my throat, and the room went silent.
“Two unsanctioned wolves entered into the territory and attempted to take the female in question. Dace provided assistance. One of them was killed and the other got away.”
Gasps were followed by manic whispers. Tactfulness was not something I had been born with or had since learned. It didn’t matter though, I wanted to keep things honest and upfront with my pack mates. It was how my father had failed but it wouldn’t be that way with me.
“He’s gonna get us all killed over a pair of tits.”
I held back the urge to sneer, turning my gaze toward Allen. He wasn’t the most educated member of the pack and his father’s prejudice and ignorance toward humans had spoiled him. We were all naturally suspicious, our history littered with tales of strife between our two peoples, but most of us knew humans weren’t all bad. That wasn’t the case with Allen.
“Last time I checked it was my job as Alpha to protect this territory and all the people in it.” The murmurs in the room dissipated. I turned my gaze from Allen. “Humans included.”
“But do you really think it’s smart to help this human?” Owen asked.
Before I could respond Allen was already jumping at the opportunity to incite more outrage. “Just run her out of town. We don’t need to be courtin’ trouble that none of us asked for.”
There were murmurs and nods of agreement.
“Even if I sent her away...” Which I certainly had no intention of doing. “I can’t ignore the threat this wolf now poses.”
“He’s lyin’,” Allen remarked to the group before turning his gaze to me. “You’re just like your daddy. Got yourself a taste for the humans.”
“Watch it, Allen. You’re walking a thin line,” Dace warned as he took a step toward him, getting a dirty look in the process as Allen turned back to address the group. I clenched my hand into fists to keep from grabbing him. I had no plans to be a tyrant but it was hard to cage the beast inside of me when someone presented a challenge.
“I think it might be time to consider some different leadership.” There were a couple of nods of agreement and murmurs.
There it was. The real reason he had called this meeting and I understood it. Things didn’t look favorably for me at the moment, it was the perfect time to push his own agenda. I clenched my jaw, breathing deep as I stepped forward.
“Listen—” I raised my hands and the room grew quiet. “I know that this must look bad to you, but I need you to trust me for a little while longer. I’ve just as much at stake – if not more than any of you. I promise that nothing is more important to me than this pack. Nothing.”
There was a stretch of silence, skeptical gazes being tossed around. Owen was the first one to step forward, expression stern. “I’ll trust you, Alpha.” He bowed his head, body stiff. I knew it must have taken a lot for him to agree to trust me, and I was thankful for it. After that the others followed his lead – one after another – repledging their alliance to me. Dace gave me a small smile, respect glimmering in his gaze before he turned away and pulling his cigarettes from his jacket pocket.
Allen approached me last. “Rhys.”
He glanced towards the others, before stepping closer to me. He reached out his hand and pulled me into an embrace. I had to hold back the urge to growl. “You should be careful not to get too attached...humans are such fragile things.”
“Are you threatening me?”
He pulled back, grinning. “Of course not. Just cautioning you, Alpha.”
I watched him as he walked away and out of the bar. I wanted to protect Dove, but it appeared that I had only put her into a more dangerous situation.