HEAT

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Chapter 9: Better & Better

Hycinth

The perky, blonde shewolf walked in like she owned the place, nose high in the air, ignoring me completely. And then suggested she put away my new clothing in drawers which she already knew were empty—how did she know that? Was she so familiar with every damned drawer in his closet that she knew what was, and wasn’t, contained in each of them? The answer appeared to be yes.

I fumed, both at her outright disrespect in ignoring me and her clear possessiveness over him. I had no right to feel that way, given my 100% intention of somehow escaping him, but at the moment, I couldn’t tamp down my innate wolf tendencies. My Wolf was also feeling feral, a sustained growl churning through her chest.

When the little bitch emerged from the closet, I stood to my feet. I wasn’t going to have this conversation sitting down. She instantly focused on me—for the first time. She tried to cover her obvious disdain with a fake smile, but her upper lip twitched like she was having a hard time keeping it from rolling back to expose the canines underneath.

I purred, “Leander, why don’t you introduce me to your little friend.”

Her eyes flashed at my description of her as his ’little friend.′

Leander joined me on his feet and positioned himself closely behind me, but slightly to my left, keeping me to his right, so close, I could feel the heat coming from his chest. His voice was smooth and thick with authority, “Hycinth, this is Sydney, my Delta, third in command. She oversees the shewolves and is my go-to whenever I need assistance with one of the females. The females begin their training with her, and she leads an elite team of five shewolves.”

Every word that came out of his mouth just pissed me off more. Okay, so Sydney was in charge of the female population—basically acting as his Luna.

Leander continued, “Sydney, this is Hycinth Diamonte. As you’re already aware, she comes from a strong heritage of Alphas and is my mate.”

Shock reverberated through me that he would identify me with my father’s heritage, pointing out the strong genetic code that did exist in my body. My grandfather had been legendary, virtually unbeaten in every war and every challenge. However, from the wrinkle in Sydney’s nose, it appeared his words just left a bad taste in her mouth. I wasn’t sure how she could sneer and appear polite at the same time as she purred, “Of course, Alpha Who doesn’t know who her father is?”

Yes. Her words were a clear reminder of how the members of this pack considered me. Daughter of the enemy.

“She will be attending your afternoon training session. I trust you will make her feel welcome,” Leander’s voice turned hard, not even trying to veil the threat behind his words.

She merely batted her eyelashes. “Of course. I’m looking forward to getting to know her better.” She seemed to mean her words, but not for any kind intention, more like when one sizes up their opponent.

And oddly enough, she and I still hadn’t spoken any words directly to each other. Her attention was focused 100% on him. I studied the look in her eyes...and abruptly realize the truth.

I swiveled my head to look behind me at the discarded list on the bed.

“Fuck,” Leander swore under his breath.

Yep, there it was—Sydney. At the top of the list. The first name he’d given me. Interesting. So, when considering his past bed partners, she was the first person to come to his mind. I see. Her intimacy with his closet made a whole lot more sense now. Well, if he thought I was going to give a shit, he was wrong. She could have him.

I couldn’t have been more relieved when there was another knock on his door.

Ever!

Excellent, he was my babysitter now.

Without another word, I walked past Sydney and opened the door, smiling brilliantly up at Ever. He looked a little taken aback, like I might sprout a flesh-eating head and gobble him up or something. Maybe I would later if the mood hit me. But for now, I was thrilled for the excuse to get the hell out of there. Before he could say a word, I pushed against his chest making him step back away from the door, and I stepped through, happily exclaiming, “Ever! Let’s go!”

He only had time to cast a quick confused glance over my head at Leander, before I shut the door behind me and started down the hall, past him. “Shit,” he cursed and then hurried to catch up. I was already on the stairs and making my way down.

..........

The morning spent with Ever was actually very interesting. After stopping by the kitchen, saying hello to Mimi and partaking in the most delicious cinnamon roll I’d ever tasted, we’d snuck back to Leander’s room so I could change out of my mate’s underwear and t-shirt.

I currently wore a tightfitting light blue T-shirt, black cargo pants, and combat boots—one of my favorite ensembles. A little bit warm for the season, but I’d happily endure the heat to keep as much of me covered as possible. Leander was already quite the amorous wolf, and my reactions weren’t much better—more clothing was definitely more conducive to my goal of not getting physical with him.

Once appropriately dressed, we headed out to meet various members of the pack. I didn’t mind this interaction. My Wolf enjoyed it too. Well, as much as possible. For every Wolf who appeared open and friendly, there were two more with disdain for my presence.

The afternoon rolled around, and it was time for me to ‘enjoy’ Sydney’s training session with the she-wolves. I followed alongside Ever as we walked about a half a mile away from the pack house to a large building. I took a step toward the door, but Ever stopped me, “Wait a minute. Come here.”

He pulled me to the side of the building. I stared up at him curiously. He wasn’t that bad of a Wolf. We’d found some common ground during our conversations—now that we were no longer discussing rubbing Leander’s cum all over my body. Amazing how well two people could communicate when leaving that out.

“What is it?” I peered up at him.

“Hold up your hair.”

Now I was even more confused but reached to hold my hair away from my neck.

“Good. Turn around.”

I turned and was shocked to feel him release the locking mechanism on the collar. It slipped off my neck into his hands.

When I turned back around, I stared intently into his eyes. “Does Leander know you’re doing this?” Leander had been pretty clear on the purpose of the collar, to detour me from getting into a fight. He knew without my ability to shift and my Moon-given strength, I wouldn’t be stupid enough to take on whoever got in my way in order to escape. I was almost certain Leander wouldn’t approve of removing the collar and wondered if Ever frequently defied his Alpha’s orders.

“Leander told me to do it.” Ever pushed it into his pocket.

“When?” I asked suspiciously.

“Right after you left this morning. He also wanted me to tell you to do whatever you felt you had to do.”

I stared at him with my mouth open. So, Leander was going to trust me now? Damn that Alpha for being so damn confusing!

Ever continued, tone hard, a warning not to resist. “The collar goes back on once you’re done.”

I wasn’t so sure about that but didn’t say anything.

“I’ll be waiting for you out here. Don’t even consider trying to run. There are ten other wolves, watching and guarding. They are all mated and have Leander’s permission to physically do whatever they need to stop you. Don’t make him regret the decision of temporarily removing the collar.”

I listened carefully to his words, not surprised there were other wolves in play. I also wasn’t surprised they were all mated. Leander didn’t seem to react well when an unmated male had physical contact with me—at least until he’d conquered me and has his fill first. Apparently, then it would be open season for the wolves.

I nodded stiffly and turned toward the door. Pushing it open, I stepped inside, my eyes adjusting to the change in lighting. It looked like a large gym with center ring, the same approximate format found in every Wolf pack.

It wasn’t hard to locate Sydney’s blonde hair. Her nose wrinkled and then her head turned in my direction. A gleam sparked in her eyes as she made her way through the wolves to me.

"Hycinth,” she acknowledged, words dripping with disdain. She had changed clothes since this morning, now wearing next to nothing in a sports bra and athletic shorts that barely covered the bottom of her ass-cheeks.

After her one word introduction, she turned and walked back toward a group of five shewolves in the center ring. I followed her, and when we reached them, they all turned to face me. Well, if I questioned it before, their matching expressions left no doubt where their loyalties lied—every one of them looked like they wanted to rip out my throat.

Lovely, I should have brought the list to compare names.

No wonder Leander discarded the collar. Still, I wasn’t going to let them provoke me. I didn’t want to be here as much as they didn’t want me here, so their aggression was actually pretty humorous. The thought caused me to flash them a shit-eating grin, which caused them to narrow their eyes, their expressions darkening even more. Which made it all the funnier to me and I snorted, trying to swallow down a giggle. Two of them growled in response. Shit, if they didn’t stop this ridiculous display of useless estrogen, I was going to burst into laughter.

Sydney cleared her throat, capturing their attention. She looked back at me and purred, “Would you like to join us?”

Now I couldn’t stop the giggle. The dense shewolf really thought they could intimidate me, either through force or provoking a fight. Unfortunately, there were no fucks given here. I knew what I was capable of and would only use my strength and skill when I damn well saw fit, not because any shewolf wanted to test me.

Funnier still, the test would have been five against one—what did that say for their confidence in their skill? I couldn’t help giggling once more at the thought and planted my butt on a nearby bench. “Oh, no, I’ll just sit here and enjoy the show. Please continue.”

Apparently, my display of not giving a shit captured the attention of several other wolves around us. Noses and ears inclined my direction, watching me. Let them watch. I didn’t care.

With her mouth set in a deep frown, Sydney turned back to her motley little band of she-wolves and started barking out orders. They snapped into position and began to spar. She coached them through a series of maneuvers. And they were getting quite vicious with each other. I wasn’t sure if my presence provoked this level of aggression or if it was normal. Maybe since I hadn’t joined in, they were trying to make a point still.

I was actually thankful to be able to sit back and watch because it gave me a significant advantage to evaluate their strengths if I ever needed to face them. When finished, the little group disbanded leaving Sydney and me alone. Sydney sneered, “So, did you enjoy the show?”

“Immensely,” I grinned. “Thank you for entertaining me.”

Her eyes turned stormy. “I’m so going to enjoy challenging you.”

Her words caught me off guard. She sounded as if she had a definite plan for the future, but why would she tell me now? Or maybe this was her way of challenging me. My Wolf came into my eyes. My tone dropped low and lethal. “Is that what you want? To fight me? Is that what you’re looking for?” I hadn’t wanted a fight today, but if she was going to throw a direct challenge, I wasn’t going to back away.

She smirked, “Oh no, not yet. I’d never get in the way of this opportunity for the mated pairs. But afterward, after you’ve given him the only thing he wants from you, an heir, then you can bet your ass you’re going to have to face me.”

Now I was really confused. What was she saying? She wanted to wait until after I’d mated him and had his pup and then she was going to challenge me? I tilted my head and asked, “Why would you do that? Once he’s mated, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Her smirk turned devilish. “Oh, stupid Wolf, how foolish you are.” She said nothing else, just turned and walked away.

I wasn’t going to wait around or call her back to answer any more questions, but I needed to get answers somehow. And I certainly wasn’t going to ask Leander. Abruptly, Ever was standing behind me. I turned to face him.

“So, are you done laughing at them?” His lips twitched.

I couldn’t help the grin that spread across my face. “How did you know?”

“You made quite an impression...by doing nothing at all. Well, you did giggle at the six most formidable shewolves in the Pack, so maybe that’s something.” He rubbed his chin. “After this morning, Leander was worried a fight was unavoidable. Once again, he was wrong about you.”

Ever’s words surprise me. He almost sounded impressed.

“I know what I can do. I didn’t feel the need to prove anything.”

He nodded and mused, “You’re good for him,” and then he added, “Never thought I’d say that.”

I didn’t bother to analyze his words. “Where next?”

“First, the collar...and then my house.”

That damn collar. I narrowed my eyes.

He tensed as he watched me decide whether or not he was going to have to fight me. Ten other wolves were circling somewhere. It wasn’t the right time for me to try to break free. And maybe I could build some brownie towards this illusion of trust Leander wanted to see from me.

I turned around and held my hair up. Ever exhaled heavily, wrapped the collar around my neck and engaged the locking mechanism.

It only took a few minutes for us to walk to his home. It was a quaint cottage, set back into the trees, not too big, but not too small with flowers adorning the front and a garden on the side. It was apparent loving hands had built this home. When we walked inside, the interior was as pretty and appealing as the outside.

It almost had a French country feel with comfortable seating, whitewashed and distressed wood and heritage quilts. A beautiful shewolf popped out of the kitchen, eyes lighting with excitement when she saw me. She crossed the room and immediately engulfed me in a hug so tight I struggled to breathe through it. After a long moment of not letting go and me holding my breath, Ever interrupted, teasing, “Gwen, stop manhandling the guest. You’ll have plenty of time to hug and hold on to her in the future, no need to try to work it all in today.”

Gwen stepped away and smiled sheepishly. Her smile was breathtaking, gleaming white teeth set against creamy caramel skin. High cheekbones, a straight nose and expressive brown eyes, the color of rich mahogany. She was so pretty, it took me a minute to gather my thoughts together.

Ever walked over to her, a deep growl escaping his chest as he grabbed her in his arms, held her tight, and planted a wild kiss right on her lips.

“Oh!” she squeaked before her airway was cut off by his lips. And then she melted into him, clutching him tightly, reveling in the strength of her mate. When they pulled away, her eyes were bright and glowing. Ever looked down at her with such love and adoration that it gave my heart a pang. What must it feel like to be so cherished by a mate?

I would never know.

I felt tears well in my eyes and blinked quickly before they noticed, but something in Gwen’s expression made me think I hadn’t been quite as quick to cover my emotion as I’d hoped. Thankfully, she moved right along in the conversation, patting Ever’s chest. “Go on. Let us girls talk.”

Tension rolled through his broad shoulders. “I’m not leaving,” he insisted coldly.

I was startled at his abrupt change in demeanor.

Gwen’s voice lowered soothingly, “I’ll be perfectly safe. She’s not going to hurt me.”

Hurt her? I had just assumed he was worried about me running away. I had no idea he thought I’d attack his mate. I gasped, “I would never...hurt...”

She looked at me. “I know you wouldn’t. He knows it too.” She tapped his chest. “He’s just a bit overprotective.”

Well, that made sense. I’d already seen Ever’s protective side and his anguish at his mate’s pain. I said quickly, “If it makes him feel better, I don’t mind if he stays.”

Ever’s eyes bore into mine, searching for an answer. I stared back at him openly, without pretense, hoping he could find the truth in my expression. He must have because he nodded slowly and leaned down, giving Gwen a quick kiss on the cheek. “I’ve got to have her back in an hour. Will that give you enough time to talk?”

“For today,” she replied grinning at me.

I couldn’t help but smile in return. I could already tell I was going to like her very much.

After Ever left, she ushered me into the kitchen while she made a pot of tea. When it was ready, we went back to the living room, chatting the entire time. She told me about her family. I purposefully left out any details about my family but shared my love of art and color. Not once, did she mention the Claiming Ceremony. I was thankful. I’d worried I was in for a hard sales pitch. Instead, the conversation was relaxed and progressed comfortably.

After a moment of silence, I decided she might be the perfect person to answer my question from earlier. I bit my lip. “Can I ask you something?”

She raised an eyebrow. “Of course, anything.”

“Um, it’s about mating.” I flushed pink, embarrassed once again at my lack of knowledge.

She squeezed my arm. “That’s perfectly okay. You can ask me any question, no matter what.”

I drew in a slow breath, working up the courage. “If Leander...mated with me...could that bond be broken...and he mate with another she-wolf?”

Her expression turned to one of concern. “Technically yes, but Leander would never do that.”

I disregarded her last statement. Apparently, she didn’t know the Alpha like the unmated males he surrounded himself with—him first and then sharing his leftovers. Hell, even he’d told me he could never see me as his Luna, and the only reason I was here was for the Claiming Ceremony and to bear him a pup. He wasn’t even trying to disguise his reasons for wanting me.

Not that it mattered. I would never love him. I would never accept him, not after what he’d done. Still, I was curious how everything worked and asked carefully, “Is there a way it could happen without it being his choice?”

Her expression darkened. “Why are you asking? Has something happened?”

“No,” I assured her quickly. “It was just something Sydney said.”

“That bitch!” Gwen hissed. “What did she say?”

I bit my lip again and spoke honestly, “I’m not sure I should tell you. If I tell you, you’ll tell Ever, and he’ll tell Leander. And I don’t want that.” The last thing I wanted was for Leander to get word that I was making inquiries about his previous females.

Gwen gave me a knowing smile. She took one of my hands in hers and spoke sincerely, “I understand the necessity of keeping some things hidden whilst in the middle of courtship. It isn’t helpful for the male to know too much. Let Leander work for you. I can assure you, if it’s your desire this conversation go no farther than the two of us, so be it.”

I was surprised at her frankness, but also relieved. I exhaled slowly. “Sydney said she was going to challenge me...after I mated with Leander and bore his pup. I didn’t realize that a challenge could break the mate bond.”

Her expression turned to fury now. She ground her teeth together. “Any Wolf can be challenged for another. It is quite rare for it to happen to one already mated and usually never ends well if the challenger wins. In your case, the situation is slightly different because another shewolf may want to challenge you simply for your title of Luna.”

I was shocked at her words. I had no idea. Not that Leander would give a shit once he got what he wanted from me, he’d probably be all for another shewolf stepping up to the plate, one that didn’t have Diamonte as her last name. But I had to ask, “And Leander would allow that? He’d walk away from his mate and pup to take another?”

“He’d never let the pup go, but if mother remained alive, in consideration of the pup, the mother would have the choice of leaving as a Rogue, disgraced, or she could stay as an Omega, still disgraced.”

Oh, this was just getting better and better, I thought bitterly.

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