The air in the bar was stale and suffocating. The familiar company of my packmates did nothing to lessen the sourness of my mood. My wolf was scratching to be released but I knew I couldn’t trust myself, not with scent of Dove still lingering on my skin. With my luck, the beast would take us right back to our female and I knew what would happen then – nothing good.
“You saw the human.” I lifted my face as Dace sat down in the booth across from me, sniffing.
I grimaced, turning my gaze toward the window. The moon was rising up over the mountain, silhouetting the evergreens. This was the place I was born and the place I would die. This was not a town, but a prison. Dove was going to fly far away, while I remained here, and that was way it had to be. I wouldn’t falter in that any more than I already had.
“I warned you to stay away from her.”
I took a sip of my whiskey, ignoring his comment. I didn’t want to talk or think about Dove. It was depressing. I needed life to get back to business as usual. “How are things looking tonight?”
“She must not have been that good if your mood is this foul.”
I turned to him with a heavy glare, lip curling up in a snarl. Dace was wearing a smug expression on his face as he lifted his hands in surrender. The bastard got a kick out of being able to rub my nose in my mistakes. According to him, it didn’t happen often, so he had to revel in it when it did. If he was smart, he wouldn’t push me on this.
“It’s been quiet on all fronts.” He dropped his hands to the table.
“What of the breach on our western border this afternoon?” That was what Owen and the others had been looking into today before Dove showed up. That female had no idea how much danger she had been in. I didn’t want to think about what might’ve happened if I hadn’t been around – my pack didn’t take kindly to strangers, especially of the human variety.
“They said who or whatever it was must have gotten spooked.”
“For now, I want you to increase the patrols.” It would be stupid of me to ignore the threat. It may have only been a hiker or another predator, like a bear or mountain lion, but I couldn’t take the risk. The pack was in a state of rebuilding after the attack that led to the death of my father. He had failed us all beyond measure and I had been left to clean up the mess he’d made. I’d promised myself on the day I’d taken the title of Alpha that I would never let something like that happen again.
“I thought you’d say that. So, that’s what I did.”
I snorted, lifting my glass for another drink.
Dace flagged down one of the barmaids. “Get us another round of what he’s having.”
“You’ve got a job to do tonight.” I remarked. Dove was still in my town and I needed her looked after if I wanted to have any peace of mind. I knew she didn’t like it, but my wolf would have me scratching at her door if I did nothing and I couldn’t have that.
“Fine. Make that a beer for me…and a double for the grouch.” He winked at the female.
I let out a low growl at his comment, that had the girl ducking her head and scurrying away, ears tinted pink from her blush. Dace ignored me as he twisted in his seat, watching the female with a familiar gleam in his gaze. The man had no shame. There was a time when I had been like him. A time when we had competed with each other over the company of females. We were juveniles then, and the world had been full of possibilities.
I was different, now. Everything was different.
“Why don’t you find a nice girl and settle down?”
Dace turned back to me, the look in his eyes more guarded. “Why don’t you?”
I stared down into amber liquid at the bottom of my glass. I wanted to share the truth about Dove with my friend but my mouth wouldn’t open. The words were trapped somewhere between my heart and my head. I trusted Dace, more than most. He had been with me through the good times and the bad. Sometimes, it felt like he knew me better than I knew myself – which was I was hesitating. I knew he would tell me what I had known from the moment I’d laid my eyes on Dove, she would be a liability that we couldn’t risk the pack over. It didn’t matter what she was too me. I was not a normal man and I had responsibilities that went beyond myself.
“You’re right. Stupid question.” I downed the remnants of my whiskey.
“Speaking of nice girls…”
I narrowed my eyes as I glanced in his direction.
“Your mother stopped by the compound after you left.” I tensed at his words. If she had stopped by the compound that meant that she would’ve smelled Dove. My female had a scent that was hard not to notice.
“Great.” I rubbed my forehead. Another headache that I didn’t need.
The barmaid returned with the drinks Dace had ordered. He flashed her a charming smile. “Perfect timing, sweetheart.” He grabbed the fresh glass of whiskey from her and slid it toward me. I caught it and took a large gulp, enjoying the burn it left in it’s wake. Her eyes were wide as she set the beer down. I met her stare. She blanched and dropped her face, murmuring an apology as she hurried away from the booth.
“I can’t take you anywhere, can I?” He questioned, taking a sip of the beer.
I gave him a look. “Did my mother say anything about—”
“The human?” He interrupted. I waited, impatiently, while he took long drink. He was back to rubbing my nose in my mistake. “She didn’t say a word, but I wouldn’t go looking for her until after you’ve had a shower.”
I snorted. “Did she happen to mention what she wanted?”
“I didn’t ask and she didn’t say.” Which meant it either hadn’t been important or it had. It was hard to tell with my mother.
Dace leaned back into the booth, letting his eyes wander to a group of familiar females who had walked through the door. I frowned when I spotted Camila among them. She was beautiful, strong, and confident. All the things that would attract males – males like me. Except, Camila was the type of girl who wanted to be mated, and she deserved it, but she wasn’t going to get that with me. I had made myself clear about that, several times.
She met my gaze across the room and smiled. She broke away from her friends and moved toward our booth.
My stomach churned.
Dace let out a low whistle as he turned back to me, grinning over his beer. “Looks like you can’t catch a break.”
“Hey, Rhys.” Her scent drifted over me, it was cloying. “I didn’t know you were going to be here tonight.”
I turned my eyes to her, feeling even more like an ass under her hopeful gaze. “Long day.”
She nodded her head, understanding. It grated on me. Why couldn’t she have been my mate? It would’ve been simpler, to be honest. Camila had a wolf, she had been raised with the pack, she understood how life was for someone in my position. It would’ve been an easy life. Instead, I’d been paired with a human – even; if I gifted her with the bite, life would never be easy.
Guilt overwhelmed me as the bond bit at my insides for thinking as I had. Dove deserved better than that, even if nothing more could happen between us. I rolled my shoulders, trying to release some of the tension in my body.
“What brings you in tonight?” Dace questioned, turning the conversation away from me.
“We’re here celebrating Larissa’s birthday,” she commented, tucking hair behind her ear. “You should have a drink with us – I’m sure she’d appreciate it.” Her eyes strayed to me. It wasn’t hard to read between the lines. I didn’t say anything, only nodded my head in response.
Dace rose up from booth, donning a friendly smile. I knew he was biting the bullet for me, not that he looked at it that way. “How about the first round is on me?”
I frowned. “Don’t forget you—”
“Have a job to do tonight,” he finished before I could. “One more drink won’t hurt. If anything, it’ll make me better company.” He winked.
My wolf growled as an imagine of him with Dove passed through my mind. I shook my head. That would never happen. I needed to get myself under control before I did something dumb – well, dumber than fucking my mate. Dace wrapped his arm around Camila’s shoulders and turned her away from our booth, leading her back to her friends.
I surveyed the bar. Most of my packmates seemed to be enjoying their night, delighting in the company. Yet, here I was sitting alone – like usual. For a moment, a feeling of isolation threatened to overwhelm me, but I washed it away with what was left of my whiskey. As long as the pack was safe and happy, then I could be content.
That was all that mattered.