COAL

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Brutal. Dangerous. Deadly.

Brinley

The meeting continued for several hours. Both Beta Dean and Alpha watched me like a hawk, but thankfully, with the conference in session, neither could really bother me.

I was also relieved to find Beta Dean taking an interest in several other shewolves, not just me. And Calla had not fallen off of his radar completely. She made a point to stay front and center, making sure his beverage stayed full, bringing him refills even when it wasn’t necessary.

I made a point to be as scarce and unnoticeable as possible.

Walking back to the serving stations, I tried not to hobble, the pain in my toes excruciating from standing in these damned shoes for so long. Lena watched me, her face screwed into the perpetual scowl of disgust she wore every time she laid eyes on me.

I turned away, busying myself with useless tasks like stacking napkins and organizing glasses that were already in perfect order.

The noise of the crowd became louder. Glancing up, I found several wolves standing and beginning to mingle. I turned to Lena, “Is it over?”

Her eyes narrowed, a sneer on her lips, “No...just an intermission. You’re not getting out of work that easily.”

I turned away and rolled my eyes.

From the old bitty’s tone, you’d have thought I sat on my ass the entire time. Which I most certainly hadn’t—my pitiful feet were proof.

I must’ve been distracted by my annoyance with Lena because I took several steps without noticing Beta Dean making his way through the crowd. By the time I realized his intent he was standing right next to me. There was no way I could turn around and run, and pretend I hadn’t seen him.

He gave me a slow grin. “I’ve been watching you.”

…that doesn’t sound creepy.

The Beta laughed.

I looked up in surprise and realized I had said it out loud.

Shit…

But he didn’t appear offended. If anything, his brown eyes brightened. He drawled, “Most shewolves would kill for my attention, but you...you’re not like that, are you? If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were avoiding me. Tell me what is so distasteful that you would evade me at every turn?”

“I, um...no...” I did a brilliant job of articulating my thoughts.

His grin widened as I stumbled over my words. “Alpha mentioned that all of the servers would be single.” He leaned in, giving me a conspiratorial wink and whispered, “Do you have a secret mate or something?”

His question was meant to tease, but his incredibly close vicinity to the truth caused my heart to race.

…was Alpha using him to expose Coal and me?

But if so, why would he ever think I’d be stupid enough to admit something so significant to a perfect stranger? No. The truth was much more simple. The Beta really didn’t comprehend my disinterest, and his ego made the assumption it had nothing to do with him.

But he had given away one vital clue. He revealed Alpha told him all of the servers would be single.

I took a mental note of the servers I’d seen throughout the evening and realized it was true. They were all unmated.

…was the Beta trying to find a mate?

Well, he was definitely looking in the wrong place with me.

“I’m not avoiding you. I’m just busy and need to get back to work.”

I tried to sidestep around him, but his arm shot out and grasped the bar behind me, blocking my path.

Instinctively, I began to move in the other direction, but his other arm impeded my progress there as well, caging me in. He took a step closer, our bodies were almost touching.

“What...what are you doing?” I gasped.

“Tsk, tsk...don’t you know it’s impolite to lie?” He purred. “If the expression on your face didn’t already reveal the truth, then the skip in your heartbeat certainly gave you away. You’re not a very good liar,—” he cut himself off and asked, “What is your name, anyway?”

I shifted uncomfortably on my feet and reluctantly replied, “Brinley,”

“So skittish...,” he murmured, his voice deep and gravelly. “Now that we know each other, Brinley. I’m curious. What is that unusual power I feel coming off of you?”

…what the hell?

That was quite an abrupt shift in the conversation. I had no idea what the Beta was referring to. And I’d hardly say revealing my name constituted our ‘knowing’ each other. I stared, dumbfounded. “Um...what?”

Again with the brilliant responses.

He chuckled, “Don’t be shy, love. You can tell me. You have Alpha blood in your line, don’t you? It’s strong, so a close relation, your father, maybe?”

I bristled. I didn’t like his invasive questioning, and I sure as hell didn’t want to discuss the fact that I was a bastard pup and didn’t know who my father was.

Thankfully, Langdon took that opportunity to intercede. “Brinley,” his tone was curt, “Lena needs you in the kitchen.”

Beta Dean released his hold on the bar and took a step back.

I exhaled in relief at his distance.

He turned his attention to Langdon, his pupils darkening. “I’m quite certain your Alpha wouldn’t mind her spending a few more minutes talking with me.”

“Sorry, mate, I’m just following orders. I’m sure she’ll have time to chat once her responsibilities are done.”

I noticed Langdon didn’t correct him on which pack he belonged with. I was also fairly certain that Lena had not called for me and was probably not in the kitchen.

Beta Dean hesitated.

Oddly enough, just at that moment, Calla stepped in and further assisted me, whether she realized it or not. “There you are,” she gushed, grabbing his arm.

“Here I am,” he smirked in agreement.

She breathed, “You promised to tell me more about your pack during intermission.”

“Indeed, I did,” he drawled. He glanced up at me and murmured, “Catch you later, my dear.”

I didn’t reply as they walked away.

I didn’t know if his choice of wording was purposeful, but that was the second time he’d said he was going to catch me. A cold shudder ran down my spine.

I followed Langdon out the opposite door. As soon as we were alone, he stopped to face me and growled quietly, “I don’t like him.”

“Me either,” I replied. ”The male comes across as an ass, but maybe he’s harmless. He seems to be interested in all of the single female population, not just me.”

Langdon’s brow furrowed, his lips pulled thin. “I asked around about him.”

His expression caused alarm bells to go off in my head. “What did you find?”

“Apparently, he’s on the hunt for a mate.”

I had thought the same thing, but something wasn’t right.

I touched Langdon’s arm. “Wait a minute. Why would Alpha try to encourage him with me? He’s already told me he’d never let me leave. Surely, he’s not going to try to set me up with a wolf from another pack.”

A muscle in Langdon’s jaw clenched. “No, it doesn’t make sense. But I have no doubt your Alpha has an ulterior motive in play. And knowing that bastard, whatever it is, can’t be good.”

I shivered and crossed my hands over my chest to hold my arms.

“What exactly did he say to you?”

I thought back to our conversation and recounted the points, “He told me he thought I was avoiding him. He asked my name. He said he felt unusual strength coming off of me and asked if my father was an Alpha. Oh, and he asked if I had a secret mate.”

“He what?!” Langdon hissed.

“He asked, but I think he was teasing. I think he was making up excuses for why I wouldn’t be interested in him since it seemed every other female would—and I quote—‘kill to be with him.’”

Langdon snorted, “Of course he did,” and then his expression turned dark as he continued, “I also heard he had a bit of a mean streak.”

I inhaled sharply. It felt like Langdon was sugarcoating what he had heard. I asked carefully, ”How mean?”

A vein in his neck pulsed. He hesitated and then replied, “His mate died under questionable circumstances. I don’t have any more details than that. But it doesn’t matter. I don’t want you alone with him.”

I had no intention of being alone with the questionable Beta.

“I want you to stay at Darcie’s tonight. We’ll sneak you out if we have to, but I don’t want you alone in the woods.”

I nodded in agreement. “Okay.”

For the rest of the evening, Daniel and Jax floated through the crowd, staying within the near vicinity of me. Whenever there was a break in the meeting, one of them made their way to my side and chatted, deterring any other male interest I might receive. Their strategy seemed to be effective as Beta Dean continued to eye me, but didn’t try to approach again.

When it was over, I nearly cried in relief to get out of that ridiculous dress and obscenely painful shoes.

Leaving quickly and not wanting to alert anyone to a change in my routine, I entered the forest at my usual point as if I were headed in the direction of the waterfall cave. However, as soon as I was under cover of the trees, I stripped as fast as I could, and shifted into fur, changing direction toward the town. I felt safer in this form, but still vulnerable, knowing the caliber of evil that surrounded me.

I ran fast…

Occasionally, I heard the soft crunch of a branch break, a telltale sign wolves were following me. I wasn’t afraid of these wolves. The wind had changed directions, and I knew they were Onyx Moon.

We made it there in record time. Darcie was waiting at the door and ushered us quickly inside.


The night and the next day were relatively calm.

I continued to serve the Alphas during day two of the lengthy meeting, Beta Dean continued to make innuendos, and Calla continued to throw herself at him.

I wished he would just take her and leave me alone.

As each hour passed by, I became more and more hopeful that I might make it to the end, alive and unharmed, and I was anxious to see Coal. I still had no idea when he would be back. A part of me would be glad when the meeting was done in the next hour, and all of the neighboring wolves left, but then Langdon wouldn’t have an excuse to stay close to me. I still had Alpha to contend with on my own, until Coal’s return.

Sixty more minutes ticked by and the meeting was adjourned.

Quite quickly, the crowd dwindled to about half. Most of the remaining wolves chatted and laughed in small groups. Alpha Griffin had left, but to my chagrin, Beta Dean remained behind. A few of the other Betas kept him in conversation, but I noticed his eyes on me whenever I looked that direction. I was afraid he was just biding his time before he approached me again.

I was on my way toward the serving stations to drop off empty glasses when an overpowering scent hit my nose—balsam, spice and juniper berry...

…Coal was back!

Spinning around, my heart thundered in my chest when he and Ryder walk through the door.

Coal’s expression looked serious but relaxed, making what happened next even more startling…

…as soon as he stepped inside, Coal’s wolf exploded out of him!

I gasped at the unexpected and violent shift, but I recognized it for what it was—whether or not Coal had agreed to the change, there was no doubt his wolf had forcibly taken control.

The massive beast stood tall, his entire body quivering, nostrils flaring.

Wolves yelped in surprise and scattered, giving him a wide berth.

I broke out into a cold sweat. Fear ran down my spine at the sight of him. I had never seen Coal like this before…

Brutal

Dangerous

Deadly

Abruptly, his big head whipped around, obsidian eyes wild, searching the crowd until they stopped on Beta Dean!

In the second it took for the Beta to shift, Coal was already in motion, loud, violent growls erupting from his chest.

Beta Dean was going to die…

What I didn’t know…was why.

But right before Coal made impact, another massive Wolf hurtled into the side of him, throwing him off course—Alpha!

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