COAL

All Rights Reserved ©

Cat and Mouse

Brinley

I stepped past Langdon, and walked the rest of the way down the hall, entering the large open seating area the pack used for meetings. About a hundred wolves were already milling around with more coming in.

Making my way towards the serving station, I was startled to find Calla—wearing an outfit very similar to mine.

My nervousness increased.

Calla hadn’t seen me yet. After adding two more drinks to an already full tray, she spun around and stopped in her tracks. Her eyes narrowed to slits as they slowly drifted down my body and back up again. Her lips were pursed into a thin line of distaste. The longer she stared—as if she knew something I didn’t, or she was trying to figure something out—the more anxious I became.

After another long beat of silence, I’d had enough and snapped, “What are you looking at?”

Her lip curled into a sneer and her nose wrinkled as if the smell of me disgusted her. “I’m looking at nothing...absolutely nothing,” she spat, lifting her chin as she strode past me to deliver her drinks.

My hands clenched into fists. I couldn’t make a mistake tonight. I wouldn’t let Calla goad me into making the wrong move. If I stepped out of line, not only would I get myself into significant trouble, but I worried about Langdon’s response.

Even if Daniel and Jax jumped in, the odds were almost zero that the three of them combined could beat Alpha’s wolf. And that presumption assumed they could make it to the point of fighting, which was highly unlikely because while sympathetic, Alpha Wilder had no intention of bringing a pack war due to my love life. With just one word, he could and would stop Langdon in his tracks. I was sure if. Langdon’s only choice then would be submit to or challenge his own Alpha.

No. If it came to a physical confrontation, my only chance of survival was Coal. If Coal attacked Alpha, no other wolf would get between them. Even though they did not know we were together, people knew I was Coal’s mate. Coal and Alpha’s battle would be seen for what it was. It was personal.

And Coal was getting close to taking Alpha on. Coal’s body had changed dramatically since he began training with the Onyx Moon warriors. His chest was several inches wider and rock solid, each pec looked like it had been carved from stone. His abs were equally chiseled, and his thighs were thick with sinewy muscles that flexed and bowed with the grace of a lion. His increased bulk hadn’t slowed him down any. Quite the opposite. His speed had increased, and he was up to sparring with five wolves at a time now.

Four had been a significant increase in his training, but after a few weeks, he began to win more sparring matches than he lost. I felt it was too soon, but he’d insisted on adding a fifth opponent.

Unfortunately, he was getting his butt kicked during most of those five-man sparring sessions, but he wouldn’t quit because he knew that only a stronger adversary would make him ready for the daunting task ahead.

And Darcie just kept shoveling food down him to build and maintain his bulk. She understood what his body needed. And the older shewolf understood what his mind required. She mothered him, which was no easy task when his frustration that he wasn’t improving fast enough took over...or when his fears that I might be hurt consumed him.

I was always amazed and awed when watching their interaction. Darcie never said the words. She never told Coal he could trust her. But he knew, whether just because he was a good judge of character or was there more to it?

Coal had Alpha blood, a living and breathing umbilical cord to nature, a connection bestowed upon all Alphas, a gift from the Moon. His instincts and perception were different than other wolves.

But no matter the reason, Coal inherently understood, and along with his trust, he also accepted her influence. Darcie had his ear. If she spoke, he listened. That didn’t mean he necessarily took her advice, but he always listened to what she had to say.

And that was as much as Darcie expected. She really did know a thing or two about dominant males. I studied her behavior. Not just with Coal, but the way she handled herself in every situation. I watched, and I learned. There was no other shewolf I wanted to be like, more than her. I hoped I could channel her tonight to help me get through whatever I faced.

I watched Calla’s back as she made her way around couches until she arrived at her destination. Keeping her ass high in the air—preening for the attention she knew she would get—Calla bent forward, also giving them a better view of her cleavage, handing out drinks.

I was so appalled by her blatant display that I initially didn’t realize who she was catering to. My rapt attention had been on her, but the Wolf she served last, was eying me—Alpha.

His dark expression was thoughtful, calculating, a predator confident in his skill.

My heart faltered, skipped a beat, and then thundered in my chest. I dropped my eyes to the ground and spun around only to find Lena glaring. “Get your ass out there, stupid girl, and take their orders!”

I stared at her in confusion. “But…but Calla just delivered all of their drinks.” They couldn’t possibly want a drink in each hand.

“What you think they may or may not need is irrelevant. Get out there and ask!”

I turned around slowly and sucked in a deep breath. Smoothing down the front of my dress to keep my hands from trembling, I gave it yet another tug, trying to make it cover more of my legs. My ankles wobbled a bit as I stepped forward in the absurd heels.

Head bent down slightly, my eyes averted as I traversed toward him, I felt Alpha’s intense stare, the increasing power of his authority with each step closer.

He kept nothing contained, held nothing back. The force of his strength and dominance rumbled through my chest, turning my belly nauseous. It was all I could do not to cower to the ground and show him my neck.

…I hated it.

I wasn’t the only one impacted by his unnecessary display of strength, although I suspected, he was doing it all for my benefit. Several other lesser wolves responded, fidgeting, and I even heard a small whine.

Swallowing thickly, I reached the group of couches where Alpha Wilder and Alpha Griffin of the Druid pack were already seated.

Two wolves reclined on either side of each alpha. From their large size, they had to be Betas. I recognized one of them, Beta Harrison, from my visit with Onyx Moon. However, neither he nor Alpha Wilder acknowledged my presence with any trace of recognition. I breathed a small sigh of relief. Alpha Wilder had to remember me, but I was thankful he gave away no hint of our previous meeting.

Calla still stood to the side of one of the couches, hip out, posturing, flaunting the assets she knew she had, as she carried on a conversation with one of the Betas from the Druids.

The Beta remained seated, an elbow rested on the side of the couch as he languidly trailed his fingers along her arm. It was just the slightest touch, not much movement at all, but it felt intimate.

Maybe it was just me. I still had so little understanding of the interaction between males and females beyond my own limited experience.

Leaning forward slightly, his deep voice commanded, “Come closer.”

It was a simple order, but somehow the gravelly tone of his voice made it sound much more like a promise of pleasure. Calla’s eyes lit up. She automatically bent down, giving him quite the view of her cleavage.

The Beta whispered something in her ear. Whatever it was made her blush, and I was glad I hadn’t heard his words. She giggled like a schoolgirl, her laughter resonating like tinkling bells.

I just wanted to smack the shit out of her, so I didn’t have to listen to it anymore. My Wolf growled her agreement in anticipation. Calla’s day was coming, and she didn’t even realize it. Regardless of the fact that they were together before me, she had touched what was mine.

…and I was ready for that fight.

As grueling as Coal’s training had been, mine equally pushed my limits, much farther than I planned or thought I could survive sometimes.

Langdon focused on Coal, so Amber trained with me, but it wasn’t long before I began holding my own and needed a stronger opponent…which just left the males.

The natural choice had been Coal, but that plan hadn’t worked out so well. He could handle the punches and strikes. It was the wrestling that was a problem. No sooner had we gotten in a few hits, did his Wolf show up in his eyes, gleaming obsidian orbs with devilish intent.

He always found a way to bring me to the ground…

…and invariably ended up between my thighs, his hard-as-steel manhood rocking against my sex, while I locked my ankles around his waist, growling for him to continue.

The rest of the group had to pull us apart.

We tried two more times that day, and each time ended the same way—dry humping on the floor in front of an audience.

Which was precisely why we had the no-touching rule. The instinct to mate was harsh, almost impossible to resist. One touch always led to another, so to be safe we simply didn’t touch each other. It was hell, but the only way to refrain from completing the mate bond.

Jax thoroughly enjoyed watching our raunchy display and gave Coal hell, continually whispering all of the lewd things he got to do with his girlfriend. He spoke softly enough so that I couldn’t hear, but Coal’s response—a punch to Jax’s face and then a wild-eyed, barely contained growl of longing, as he snapped his head to look at me—confirmed Jax wasn’t holding back on the graphic detail.

At first, I was appalled Jax would share such intimate information, until Langdon whispered in my ear, “He doesn’t have a girlfriend.” I couldn’t help my snort of laughter.

But Jax’s taunts had successfully wound Coal up past his usual point of restraint. The laughter died on my lips when Coal began to prowl across the room at me. All sorts of pheromones, mine, his, ours, released into the air in an explosion of desire. I was shaking by the time he reached me, and my world stopped when he brought his lips down to mine, harsh and aggressive. I didn’t have to read his mind to know Coal wanted to taste what belonged to him.

It took all of them to pull us apart again, well, except for Jax who just chortled in the corner. It was ridiculous.

The following day, we decided I would try again with a different male. And found another lesson quickly learned—Coal couldn’t be there during those sessions.

Trust wasn’t the problem.

It was his Wolf.

Unfortunately for Jax, he had volunteered to take me on. Well, he actually baited and taunted me until I punched him—and thus our sparring began.

Coal had watched from the sidelines, the muscles in his shoulders and back tense, but he didn’t interfere.

That was, until Jax made a direct strike, his fist pummeling into my shoulder, sending me flying back several feet, landing on my ass.

I was used to the pain by now, but the impact was definitely stronger than what Amber could inflict, and when I previously sparred with Langdon, he usually pulled his punches, never hitting me with his full strength.

But Jax hadn’t held back. He didn’t treat me like a fragile little shewolf. I appreciated it and wasn’t bothered by his aggressiveness. In my mind, that was the point—for me to face a more formidable opponent.

However, Coal’s Wolf viewed the situation entirely differently.

As soon as I was struck, Coal’s clothing was torn to shreds as fur and claws exploded out of him.

Jax felt the change and heard the fabric rip. He shifted instantly, spinning around to meet the assault. Coal’s teeth were bared, revealing deadly canines.

Growl after growl erupted from his chest as he attacked with full force, teeth digging into Jax’s flank, throwing him to the ground as he pounced on top of him.

Jax yelped in pain.

“Coal...No!!!” I screamed, terrified by his evident lethal intent.

Daniel, Langdon, and Amber all shifted and jumped on top of them, until there was a very large wolf-pile in the basement, a living mass of growling, writhing fur.

Working as a unit, Daniel and Langdon sliced into Coal’s side and leg, causing blood to flow. The maneuver was successful. Coal released Jax and spun around, glaring at all of them, deciding which one would die first.

My Wolf was equally frantic, worried about her mate who was bleeding. Without another thought, we shifted, and she darted into the middle of the fray.

Coal’s Wolf gave an angry warning for her to get out of his way, but my Wolf stood her ground, legs stiff and teeth bared, the fur on her back standing straight up. She communicated with him in a primal language even I didn’t understand, a series of barks and body language, posturing, tail straight.

He glared. My heart raced in my chest. I wasn’t at all sure he wasn’t going to take this opportunity to teach us a lesson in submission. We were taking a huge risk, but I trusted my wolf.

There was a brief moment of hesitation in Coal’s wolf’s eyes. Coal must also have been trying to soothe him.

The instant it happened, my Wolf dropped to the ground, her growls becoming whines. She inched forward on her belly, neck extended, showing him he was still her Alpha.

The irritated Wolf snapped at her a few times, never intending to make contact, just showing his displeasure at her outburst.

My Wolf froze, gave him a moment and then persisted forward, inch by inch, whine by whine, assuring him she knew who he was and what he meant to her.

After a moment, his growls stopped altogether, and he collapsed to the floor, sitting with a hard thud, blood running freely down his leg and side.

The other wolves behind me shifted back to skin.

Glancing over my shoulder, I breathed a huge sigh of relief to see Jax standing. He had a small trail of blood running down his leg, but he didn’t seem too worse for wear. Nor did he even looked upset, his ever-present grin still in place as he breathed, “Damn.”

I knew what he meant. Pride surged through me. My mate was formidable and powerful, and getting stronger.

“Yeah...we’re just going to give you some time,” Langdon muttered, and they filed up the stairs, out of view.

When they were gone, my Wolf attended to Coal’s wounds, licking him, stopping the bleeding, advancing his normal healing.

After several quiet moments, Darcie walked down, holding a large bowl and a gallon of water. There was no aggression in Coal’s wolf’s eyes as he watched her place the container near enough so he wouldn’t have to reach. She poured the entire gallon of water into the pan with a simple, “Here you go,” and then she left.

Coal’s Wolf gave her a grunt of appreciation and immediately dropped his snout in the water, slurping up the liquid greedily.

My wolf eyed the bowl. Her mouth was dry, and the water looked heavenly. She inched toward it, only for Coal’s Wolf to give a warning growl.

She froze.

She would have to wait until he had his fill first.

He was always first…and then she would have her turn.

It was as nature decreed.

After a moment, he stopped drinking. I wasn’t sure if he was done, but my Wolf was sneaky. Instead of going straight for the bowl, she licked the water off of his face.

He seemed to like, growling his approval.

When she was finished cleaning the extra water off of his jowls, she made another small move toward the bowl. This time there was no warning growl from him. Giving a tail wag, she dropped her snout into the cold water.

I suspected he could’ve drunk the entire gallon, but he didn’t. He’d purposely saved some for his mate. It was such a small gesture, but it meant something. His instinct would always be to provide and make sure our needs were met.

Since that point, Coal had been absent for my training. He hadn’t been thrilled about it, but he understood and agreed. And I had achieved the results we wanted. I was stronger. I knew how to move my body to defend myself.

Bringing my mind back to the present, I approached the couch with Alpha Wilder and his Betas first, and mumbled, “Can I get you anything else?”

Beta Harrison looked up at me. His expression was kind as he tilted his full glass in the air. “No, thanks.”

Neither Alpha Wilder or the other Beta responded, so I focused my attention on the couch containing the Druids, putting off speaking with Alpha for as long as possible. “What about you? Is there anything else you need?”

The Beta closest to me barely cast a glance in my direction as he gave a grunt that I interpreted to mean no.

While that male thoroughly disregarded me, I found I’d drawn the attention of the other Beta, the one with his fingers still playing with the flesh on Calla’s arm.

His glance flitted toward my face and stayed.

Handsome with rugged features, blonde hair, and brown eyes. Even sitting down, I could tell the Wolf had significant muscle mass.

I shifted uncomfortably under his piercing stare and waited for him to speak. He withdrew his attention from Calla’s arm and sat back, eyeing me with way too much interest.

“Well, little shewolf, do you have anything to offer other than what she just provided?”

I may not have had much social skill, but I recognized an innuendo when I heard it. “I, um... no, the beverage selection is the same.”

His mouth curled up. He knew he was making me uncomfortable. Licking his lips, he replied, “I highly doubt that.”

Shit. What did I say to that?

My palms were sweating, and I felt a flush of embarrassment at the back of my neck.

The too-curious male didn’t seem to be waiting for my reply. His intense gaze remained on me, making me squirm, as he spoke to Alpha, “Victor, I think you might have been right. You do have the prettiest shewolves.”

I flinched, waiting for Alpha to mock and belittle me in front of all of these wolves.

He didn’t…

Instead, he replied, “Indeed I do.”

Shock coursed through me and without thinking, my attention flew to Alpha. Instantly, I wished I hadn’t. His words hadn’t contained his contempt, but his eyes were filled with wicked amusement. It was clear we were playing a game cat and mouse…

…and I was the mouse.

Rebalancing my weight from one foot to the other, I was unsure of what to do with myself. The Beta introduced himself with a slow grin, “I’m Beta Dean.”

“Nice to meet you,” I mumbled, not feeling like it was pleasant at all.

Calla stood silently, glaring at me. If daggers could fly out of her eyes, I would be dead three times over. I wanted to laugh at the absurdity. She had no reason to be jealous of me. I didn’t want anything to do with the shifty Beta. She could have him.

Beta Dean nodded toward the empty space on the couch in between him and Alpha Griffin as he purred, “Join us.”

My heart raced in my chest. I tried to maneuver past, muttering, “Um, no thank you...I have guests to serve.”

But he moved quickly and caught my wrist in his tight grip. He chuckled, “I’m sure I could talk your Alpha into giving you just a tiny reprieve from your duties.” Considering Alpha was sitting right there and didn’t disagree, he had his answer.

Still, I stalled, my eyes moving wildly around the room, looking for Langdon. I didn’t see him, but Jax was staring at us, brows knitted together, expression stormy. He was too far away to hear the words being said, but he could see the Beta had his hand on me. And he also saw when Beta Dean tugged me down next to him and placed an arm around my shoulders on the edge of the couch, turning his body to face me.

I focused on not hyperventilating. Calla stood stiffly. It was as if the Beta had forgotten she was still there. Without a word, she turned and stalked away.

He didn’t notice her leave. He was too busy looking down at my cleavage and running his fingers along my arm, voice way too low and seductive to be appropriate for our setting, “Your feet must be killing you in those shoes. A break is exactly what you need.”

…yeah, like he was doing this all as a kindness for my poor feet.

I didn’t think so.

And I wasn’t going to stay and let him put his paws on me. I shook off his hand and began to stand back up, speaking firmly, “No thank you, I’m fi—”

Alpha cut me off, “She’s just shy. I’m sure she would enjoy getting to know you better.” His tone was low and dangerous, a warning not to disobey.

Shit! I dropped back into the seat and sat rigidly.

Langdon came into my field of vision, about ten feet away and glaring hard.

Shockingly, Beta Dean pulled away. “That’s fine. It sounds like she has a lot of work to do.”

I stared at him to see if it really was okay. He nodded with a smirk. I slowly got to my feet, muttering, “Thank you.”

He gave me a feral grin, showing his teeth and airily added, “I’ll just catch you later, my dear.”

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