COAL

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The Pit of Hell

Brinley

I followed Langdon down to the basement.

…or the pit of hell, as I was coming to think of it.

I hadn’t known him very well when we began but had a sneaking suspicion he wasn’t going to be easy on me, not at all.

I had been right.

Every day for the past seven days was proof.

Langdon would coach me.

I would attempt to bring him to his knees.

And he would chuckle while knocking me on my ass, every time.

Opening the door, Langdon motioned for me to go through first, a sly smirk on his face. I stepped inside and looked at the familiar surroundings. The basement was much larger than I’d first realized. It came complete with weights, exercise equipment, and a sparring ring.

Langdon usually fought with his shirt on. Today was an exception. Pulling the garment over his head, he left his broad and toned chest visible to me.

I might have only wanted Coal, but I wasn’t blind or dead. I could appreciate Langdon’s physique. As if I didn’t already have enough to contend with in trying not to get my ass kicked, I muttered under my breath, “That’s not distracting.”

His laugh reverberated off the walls. Guess he heard me. I stuck my tongue out at him. Childish, yes, but there it was.

Langdon laughed again, his topaz eyes crinkling at the corners.

Something about his expression caught my attention. I studied him. Usually playful and fun, but today, he seemed just a little bit more. ”What’s gotten into you?”

His eyes widened innocently, too innocently. “Nothing, why?”

Oh, he was definitely keeping something from me.

Over the course of the last week, in between taking and throwing punches, Langdon and I had spent hours talking. He’d shared quite a bit about his family and pack life. I’d gotten to know him quite well and there was absolutely something different today.

I replied carefully,“Uh huh.”

Langdon pulled his phone out of his pocket and set it on top of his discarded shirt, then stepped into the sparring ring. He waved me forward with two fingers. I sighed and gritted my teeth as I joined him. His voice was casual and full of instruction. “Today, we are going to begin working your lower body with various kicks.”

I nodded and listened as he walked through the first two kicks.

Abruptly, we were interrupted when his phone pinged. I’d never owned a cell phone, but he’d shown me how to use his, and I knew enough to recognize he’d received a text message.

Langdon’s head snapped up and swiveled to the phone.

…that was interesting.

Usually, he just ignored any calls or messages during our time together. And he certainly didn’t act excited when a new text came in.

Who was texting him?

With a wistful glance toward the phone, Langdon hesitated, reluctance in his expression to continue our activity. But then, he pulled himself together and transformed back into training mode.

I didn’t question him about it.

Covering the form and approach of another type of kick, Langdon continued educating me when his phone pinged again.

Another snap of his head toward it, his eyes reflecting intense interest in what it might say.

I couldn’t help myself and smirked, “Do you want to get that?”

“What? Ah, no...” Langdon mumbled, looking surprisingly like a small child, caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He shook his head, almost as if to clear it, and refocused on me.

But we didn’t get two more minutes in when another ping sounded, and my curiosity got the better of me. Before Langdon could stop me, I lunged to the phone and snatched it.

“No, don’t!” his warning came a little too late as I read the words on the screen: Amber: Loved last night. I miss having your lips on my pussy.

Well, they do say curiosity killed the kitty…

…and I died a thousand deaths of embarrassment right then and there.

Color flooded my cheeks. I dropped Langdon’s phone, my eyes snapping up to meet his.

My expression must have been sufficient to clue him into the context of the message. Amber pupils sparkled mischievously, and he was trying very hard to contain his laughter while I, on the other hand, was sweating profusely.

As with the rest of the details in his life, he’d openly shared he’d taken a few shewolves on dates. I assumed they were for entertainment, nothing more, something to do while he waited for his mate to come along. I had no idea he was that close to one of them.

“I...um, I...” I stumbled over my words and watched in horror as Langdon slowly crouched to pick up the phone…because, in less than a second, he would know what I already knew.

And then we would both know it together.

…which was embarrassing as fuck.

When Langdon peered at the screen, he could no longer hold back his laughter, uncontrollable deep belly laughs, only made worse when he looked back at me, still stuck like a deer in headlights. My cheeks had to be on fire.

Falling back on his butt, he continued his out-of-control chuckling, louder. I think he even snorted a few times. Tears came to his eyes as he gasped, “You should see your face.”

After several minutes of him practically rolling around, trying to catch his breath, only to look at me and start all over again, I finally had feeling back in my body and sank to the floor next to him.

Narrowing my eyes, I waited it out. I was still embarrassed, but now I could see the humor as well.

And lesson learned—that would be the last time I ever looked at someone’s messages.

Finally, Langdon’s mirth ended, and he breathed normally again.

I cocked an eyebrow and tried to sound fierce, “Are you done now?”

He grinned without answering.

I couldn’t help giving him a little smile in return.

It was funny…

…even if the joke was on me.

Still, I rolled my eyes and fussed, “Shut up! You could have at least given a shewolf a warning.”

His mouth curved wickedly. “I’m sorry. If I had any idea you were going to do that, I would have walked you through the finer points of my evening—in explicit detail—so that you wouldn’t have been surprised by the text.”

Hmm. That sounded suspiciously close to mockery.

I rolled my eyes again, almost losing them in my skull. “No, you horny hound dog, just letting me know you were ‘intimate’ with one of them would have sufficed.”

“And how should I have started that conversation?” he snorted. “Good morning, Brinley, I fucked someone yesterday. How was your night?”

He had a point.

“I...I don’t know,” I growled and shook my head.

His eyes softened. “You are adorable; truly, I love your innocence.”

I glowed a tiny bit under his praise, but I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of knowing it. Not now.

…maybe later.

I stood to my feet, and huffed playfully, “Whatever. Now get off your ass and let’s continue.”

Langdon did as ordered and began again, this time giving me instruction on roundhouse kicks, explaining the finer points of technique and also how to defend against it.

“Let’s start with you, watching me do it, and learning the defensive side, and then we’ll have you practice the strike.”

I nodded and positioned my body defensively.

But, unfortunately, I hadn’t listened as carefully as I should have because I took a short step to the right instead of pulling straight back into the proper defense mode.

And at that exact moment, it was already too late…

Langdon didn’t see me as he spun around, and couldn’t stop the trajectory of his body, his foot making contact with my cheek.

“Ahhhh!!!” I cried out.

The force of the strike knocked me off my feet and stunned my senses. I landed hard on my back. The wind sucked from my chest at impact. Black spots filled my vision.

“Brinley!” A look of pure horror crossed over Langdon’s face as he instantly dropped to my side. At least I thought it was horror. My vision was so distorted, he could have been grinning like the damn Cheshire Cat, and I wouldn’t have known better.

I panted hard, unable to speak. It was an accident, and I didn’t want him to feel worse, but I couldn’t stop the tears that crested my eyelashes and trailed down my cheeks. Unimaginable pain ricocheted through the entire left side of my face, again and again, at my slightest movement.

His words were frantic, “I’m so fucking sorry! Can you hear me?”

I realized Darcie was now sitting on my other side, gentle fingers touching my jaw. I flinched. She was completely calm, probably used to violent injuries, having mothered two male wolves.

She spoke soothingly, “I don’t think its broken. You must not have landed a direct hit.”

I was thankful at least for small favors as he was also barefoot. If he’d been wearing boots, even a slight brush to my cheek would have easily broken my jaw in several places.

“No. Just the edge of my foot, but...” his face contorted as he stared at me, and he wasn’t able to continue.

“Shh...it will be okay. You know these things happen. And you know Brinley will heal in a few days. Every fighter, male or female, goes through this. She’s strong. Go upstairs and prepare an ice pack.”

Langdon disappeared.

I worked very hard on not hyperventilating. Darcie stroked my arm and continued to murmur soft shushing sounds. Her soft reassurances, both physical and verbal, felt so foreign to me. After my mother died so many years ago, there had been no more loving touches for me, no family to care what happened to me. But somehow, I had another chance, a new family, and I’d quickly latched onto Darcie as if she were my second mother.

Darcie maintained eye contact, her expression calm and caring. Langdon returned with the ice pack. She held it carefully to my cheek.

I bit my tongue to keep from crying out.

She murmured, “I’m sorry, this ice pack is the only way to treat it. I can’t give you pain medicine, not when you are sleeping in the wild. It would make you too drowsy and unable to fend for yourself if something happened.”

“Fuck! This is all my fault.” Langdon hissed angrily under his breath.

I finally found my words. I couldn’t let him continue to torture himself. My voice came out raspy, “Stop it...you know I didn’t listen to what you told me to do. If I’d stepped back defensively, you wouldn’t have made contact.”

He held my hand tightly, his golden eyes boring into mine. “But I’m supposed to protect you, even from yourself. I shouldn’t have landed the kick so close in the first place.”

I tried another tactic. “This is what you are training me for, becoming stronger. I can’t do that if I never get hit.”

Langdon opened his mouth to argue and then shut it again. He didn’t like it, but he knew I was right. I laid there for several minutes, while the ice turned the side of my face numb.

Darcie ordered Langdon, “Pick her up and carry her to her room, so I can help her get bathed. It’s even more crucial that she not have a trace of your scent on her, not with an injury like that.”

Like Alpha would give a shit, I thought ruefully. He’d probably congratulate whoever had taken their anger out on me. But I didn’t speak my thoughts. Instead, I remained silent as Langdon carefully gathered me off the floor and carried me to the room Darcie now referred to as mine.

After he left, Darcie ran a hot bath, stripped me of my clothes and helped me get in. I felt like a little pup again as she took a washcloth, added soap and began to clean me.

I held the ice pack close to my cheek the entire time and felt considerably better by the time she finished. Darcie reached to help me up. I took her hand, but said, “I think I’m okay now. I can walk on my own.”

When I straightened from the tub, I stood still for just a moment as my head reoriented to my new position, and then carefully lifted a leg out and then another.

Darcie wrapped a towel around my body and briskly rubbed me dry. When I dressed, and we exited the room, Langdon was sitting on the floor in the hallway with his head in his hands. His eyes snapped up to meet mine. I gave him a small grin and threatened playfully, “Just you wait until I’m stronger, you’re going to pay for that.”

He stood to his feet, his arms outstretched in the air as if I might topple over at any moment. His tone showed a little relief at my visible improvement. “I’ll gladly let you hit me as many times as you like.”

“I’m fine. Really,” I assured him. And I was. I felt functional now. Sore, but functional.


Shifting into my wolf, I trotted home. When I reached my stash of clothing, I changed back to my skin, got dressed and continued to Lena’s.

It was a silly process of changing multiple times in the day since I was just going to get naked again when I returned the borrowed items from Lena, but I didn’t want to alert Lena of Darcie’s kindness, by providing clothing.

When I reached the back porch of Lena’s small home, I started to pull my shirt over my head when she stopped me, “Wait.”

I froze, wondering what she wanted. I kept my hair in my face, trying to cover the massive bruise on my cheek, but she never even looked up at me when she handed me a small list. “Go to the packhouse. Gather these items and return them to me.”

Oh no. The very last place I wanted to be was the packhouse. But there was no defying her orders. I kept my head down as I walked toward my dreaded destination. I had only made it halfway there when a very large wolf stopped directly in front of me, blocking my path.

I glanced up.

Ryder.

What the hell did he want?

It couldn’t be anything good.

Anxiety rolled through me. Ryder and his brother, Chase, had been complete asses to me in school.

His sharp gaze zeroed in on my cheek. “Fuck, what happened to you?”

I blinked. That wasn’t the question I was expecting. If I didn’t know any better, I would say he almost sounded concerned. But that couldn’t be right. I glared. “What do you care?”

His expression contorted, his words coming slowly, “Brinley, I’m…I’m sorry I was such a dick to you in school. You never deserved that.”

I was stunned silent. I really hadn’t expected those words to come out of his mouth.

An apology?

…he had apologized.

I had no idea what to say and just stared at him like he had three heads. However, an angry growl snapped me right out of my confused haze. And it was getting closer.

Coal!

Oh no.

“Did you tell Coal?” I gasped, with wide eyes. Ryder obviously hadn’t called Coal, but he must have used the mind-link to let him know.

“Why would you do that?” I hissed. Didn’t he know Coal’s wolf was going to go ballistic?

Ryder didn’t answer. In the next instant, he disappeared, and Coal had replaced him in front of me. Obsidian eyes flashed with fury. I was right. His Wolf was enraged.

I understood his response, but he couldn’t continue to interfere in my life. He had made his choice. He needed to leave me alone. It was just too painful to be around him.

He didn’t give me a chance to speak first. Instead, his hard gaze raked over my damaged cheek. His body shuddered as he forced himself not to shift, and snarled, ”What happened? Who did this to you?"

No. I wasn’t going to start another fight between him and Langdon. Placing my hands on my hips, I replied, “It’s none of your business!”

Coal’s head went back like I’d slapped him, surprised at my answer. And then he recovered, a vein pulled in his neck, and his fists clenched. He spoke slowly, “It is most definitely my business. Now, you will tell me right now. Who did this to you?”

Anger washed over me hard and sharp. If I’d been in my wolf form, my hackles would have been raised, and I would have been standing with stiff legs as I faced off with him. I growled furiously, “It isn’t like this is the first time a member of this pack has ever assaulted me. Why do you care? You never did before, and you sure as hell shouldn’t now. You made it very clear how you felt!”

Another hard shudder went through his body, his eyes completely black. Shit. If I wasn’t careful, his wolf would be set free, and we’d have a whole different conversation.

Rather than answer, Coal leaned in and sniffed.

I froze, praying I’d gotten every trace of Langdon’s scent off of me. He would recognize it if I hadn’t. After a moment, Coal pulled back, no change in his expression. I breathed a sigh of relief but continued to glare.

Coal glanced to our side, where two other wolves looked at us curiously. Rather than say another word, he stormed off.

I suspected he didn’t want anyone to see that he’d spoken to me. Even though I wanted him gone, a wave of hurt still washed over me. I continued toward the packhouse with my head down once again.


After my confrontation with Coal the night before, I’d obtained the items on Lena’s list and returned them to her without any further incident. It was a new morning and I headed to Darcie’s house, excited about sparring with Langdon once again.

The bruise on my face had lightened considerably due to my accelerated healing but was still there. And if I knew anything about Langdon, he would try to baby me today.

Exactly as expected, when we went into the Pit of Hell, aka, the basement, he sat down on the mats. I joined him. “So, what are we working on today?” I asked sweetly.

I had to try.

Langdon shook his head and replied, ”No. No fighting today. Not until you’re fully recovered.”

“But I feel fine,” I whined. “I don’t want to sit here. I’m bored.”

“So, being forced just to sit and talk with me is hell for you, huh?” he teased.

I rolled my eyes. “You know what I mean. Isn’t there something, anything, we can work on?”

He contemplated for a moment. My heart beat faster. Maybe he would give in to me after all. “Okay.”

I yipped my excitement and started to get to my feet. Langdon grasped my wrist and tugged me back to the floor. “No hitting, no punching, no kicking.”

I blinked.

His smirk was back. “Let’s wrestle.”

My eyebrows rose. “You want to wrestle with me?”

“Yep, it’s a necessary part of your training at some point, to figure out how to get out from under an opponent or how to keep one pinned down. Today is a good day to work on it. No impact.”

I groaned. “Okay.” I was happy to be at least doing something, but I suspected this was going to be another lesson in his dominance and skill. I had a hard enough time trying to land a punch against him. There was no way I was going to be able to get his big body off of me if I was pinned beneath him.

Langdon’s smiled widened. He talked me through the basics, explaining a few easy maneuvers, ways I could twist my body to free myself and also some tips when trying to pin my opponent.

I listened carefully, and then we got started. Right away, I realized I had been right. Langdon had a significant weight advantage, and he used it.

Breathing heavily, I was stuck on my back. Langdon was on one knee to my side, his other leg wrapped around mine, and had my shoulders pinned. I jerked hard to the side, trying to break his hold, with no luck.

Maybe if I hadn’t been breathing through my mouth and perhaps if I hadn’t been so focused on Langdon, I would have realized there was another wolf in the house.

One I knew very well.

Langdon must have been just as distracted as he coached me on technique because he didn’t realize it any sooner than I had.

Quite abruptly, a frightening growl reverberated off of the walls.

I snapped my head around to find Coal standing in the doorway!

His ebony eyes were blazing furiously, his body shaking, as he took in the scene in front of him—me beneath Langdon.

Oh shit!

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