COAL

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Don't Fucking Tell Me to Calm Down

Brinley

Langdon quickly extracted his body away from mine and got to his feet, posture tense and defensive, feet apart, hands out and shoulders forward.

Coal took a few more steps into the room and then stopped, his eyes darting between Langdon and back down to me on the floor.

It seemed as if he was deciding which one of us to address first, and by address, I wasn’t sure if that meant to speak or attack. The more likely attack, given his clenched fists and veins bulging in his neck, pulling against skin that looked too tight for his massive frame. A hard shudder went through him, his Wolf demanding to be free.

Coal’s repositioning allowed enough room for Darcie to slip around him. She stood at Langdon’s side, ready to defend her son if Coal attacked.

Coal eyed her carefully, assessing if she was a threat to him, and then refocused on me. I got up slowly to my feet, trying not to rattle Coal’s Wolf anymore than he already was.

Darcie spoke to me but kept her eyes glued warily on Coal, “Sorry, I didn’t know who he was until after I opened the door, and then, of course, he got around to me to get to you.”

I’d never seen Darcy look so on edge. She was usually the picture of sweet and calm, a virtual rock of peace. It unsettled me to see her distressed. I’d already associated her as my family, and my Wolf saw her as pack, the only true pack we’d ever had.

Anger coursed through me, hard and strong, bubbling up in my gut. Coal had no right to upset her. Whatever his problem was, it was with me, not them.

Langdon’s voice was tense, on edge. “Coal, you need to calm down. If you shift now, you could hurt her.”

Langdon understood how quickly this situation could tumble out of control, right into something tragic.

But Coal wasn’t listening. His body continued to blur and shake, as he spat, “Don’t fucking tell me to calm down!”

Pupils fully dilated as they bore into mine, Coal’s voice was razor-edged with unreleased violence, as he demanded, “Have you accepted him?”

I frowned. “What?”

“Have you accepted him as your mate?” Coal roared, growls erupting from his chest and bouncing off of the walls. At the same time, his expression turned to agony as he waited for my response.

I understood his Wolf ’s anger. Truly, I did. But I’d had enough. He couldn’t keep doing this, just showing up and flying off the handle.

I pushed my shoulders back and straightened my spine, making myself look taller as I snapped, “That’s none of your business!”

From the corner of my eye, I saw Langdon snap his head toward me, confused by my response.

I hoped my words didn’t lead Langdon on. I prayed he knew better. But I had no intention of justifying Coal’s absurd behavior with a legitimate response. I didn’t owe him that.

Impossibly, Coal managed to look even angrier. He took another step, this time in my direction, his hands opening and clenching again. I didn’t care. I kept my chin up and defiantly held my ground.

Darcy interrupted our tense standoff, voice low and soothing, a tone I was familiar with, the sound she used when she comforted me. It was also the tone she used to let me know how serious she was.

Her eyes remained trained on Coal as she spoke softly, “Brinley, I know you’re hurt and angry. But trust me when I tell you...I understand dominant males. And unless there is something you and Langdon haven’t shared with me, now is not the time to provoke this Wolf...you need to give him a straight answer.”

I ground my teeth together, irritation crashing over me, but I respected her advice and would obey her wishes, even if they made me crazy.

“No!” I glared at Coal. “I have not.” I gave him the truth, but it did nothing to lessen my ever-rising fury. I couldn’t contain it. Coal’s Wolf was right on edge, but so was mine, and she’d had enough as well.

My hands gestured in the air as I yelled, “You have no right to do this! You can’t just barge in whenever it suits you and demand answers. You tossed me aside, without even so much as blinking!”

My fury ebbed as my heart broke all over again. I struggled not to cry. I didn’t want to break down into a puddle of sobbing mess on the floor. I refused to let him see me be weak. I refused to give him that satisfaction. But I could barely get the words past the thick lump in my throat as I whispered a truth that tore at my soul. “You never cared about me...”

Coal’s expression contorted again. He opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again.

Darcie interrupted once more, “Oh. No, my dear...” I looked over to find her studying Coal’s face intently. What was she doing?

She finished softly, “I think he very much cares.”

I froze. What?

What was she talking about?

What had she seen that I’d missed?

I looked back to Coal for clues and was shocked to find he didn’t deny her words. He said nothing, just stared at me, dark liquid eyes swirling with anguish. If anything, he looked even more tortured than before.

All of the anger whooshed out of my body, leaving nothing but confusion and uncertainty behind. I didn’t understand what was happening.

Darcie spoke again, still softly, this time to Langdon, “Come, son, they need a minute to talk.”

Langdon let out a low growl and refused to move. “I’m not leaving her side while he’s so angry.”

The fire returned to Coal’s expression, eyes blazing as he scoffed, “I would never hurt her!”

But his nostrils kept flaring, and his muscles quivered from the extreme control it took to keep his Wolf in check.

Darcie hesitated, still studying Coal, and then she addressed me calmly, “The only thing that matters right now is that we quiet this Wolf...and that’s not going to happen while you still have Langdon’s scent on you.”

I stared at the cold hard calculation in Coal’s blackened eyes. I’d seen that look before. Anxiety shot through me. I wouldn’t put it past his wolf to just strip me bare where I stood and solve the problem himself with his tongue. He’d done it before. I trembled as he eyed me.

Darcie continued, this time asking permission from the dominant Wolf in the room, “Would you allow her to take a shower...once she’s done, we can meet in the living room to talk.”

Coal gave a stiff nod, his Wolf agreeable to the plan.

“Langdon, it’s also necessary that you shower and remove her scent as well,” she instructed.

“Understood,” he gritted out.

“Coal, go first. Brinley will come up right behind you,” Darcie said, still coordinating all of us. I was glad she kept him away from Langdon.

We all followed her instructions. When she reached the top of the stairs right behind me, she motioned for Coal to follow her into the living room and I was left to make my way up to my room alone.

I tried not to tremble as I stripped down and began the shower. Stepping under the hot water, I vigorously cleaned my hair and skin from head to toe. I remained focused on my task, but my head was in chaos, my anger once again surfacing.

Coal hadn’t denied he cared about me. But I realized I’d read too much into his response. I had let hope take root in my broken and battered heart once again, and now I was paying the price. I was crashing down again, hard.

I already knew his Wolf cared, and maybe there was a small part of the man who cared as well. But even if he did, it didn’t matter. It didn’t change the cold hard facts. He was scheduled to mate with Calla in less than a month!

No. I was done with all of it. I would get cleaned so that Coal didn’t lose his damn mind while we spoke. But then, I would end this once and for all.

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