The days ticked by slowly. After my unexpectedly intimate meeting with Cole and his Wolf in the forest a month and a half ago, he had stayed away. His Wolf, however, was another matter. I frequently felt the animal’s eyes on me, his body hidden in the forest, and more food continued to appear magically. I tried to stay awake so that I could catch him, but he always evaded me.
Between the food my Wolf caught, the meals Coal’s Wolf provided, and my weekly trips for ‘cleaning’ at Darcie’s home, I was faring much better than anticipated.
Lena interrupted my train of thought. “Before you go into town today, stop by the packhouse. Cook has a list of items you need to pick up for the Winter Solstice Celebration this evening.”
My stomach trembled. I prayed I wouldn’t run into Coal, but I was never much of a lucky person. I made my way quickly to my destination. Just as I snatched the list from Cook, and had my escape in sight, I rounded the corner and came face to face with Calla.
She was sitting in the sunroom, drinking tea as though she owned the place. I came to a screeching halt, and spun on my heel, preparing to go another route, but she stopped me, her voice was high and whiny, “Brinley…just the person I wanted to see.”
Oh no, this couldn’t be good.
I froze and turned around to face her.
Her eyes gleamed as she relished the thought of her next words.
But really, how bad could they be? She’d already taken everything from me. I had no more left to give. In hindsight, it was stupid of me to wonder about the severity of her news. Of course, it was bad, worse than I could have ever imagined.
“The seamstress has advised the alterations on my dress are complete. Pick it up on your way back.”
Dress? That didn’t sound so terrible.
Until she finished with a wicked smile, “Coal and I are just so excited for our mating ceremony next month.”
All of the air seemed to be sucked out of my lungs. I couldn’t breathe. He was going to mate with her. He was going to mark her, and officially make her his.
And then a whole new level of devastation washed over me when I looked up to find Coal standing in the doorway. He’d heard her words…
…and didn’t deny them.
I thought I’d cried all of the tears I had left, but they flooded my eyes and streamed silently down my cheeks. I held Coal’s gaze. My voice broke, “How could you?”
I realized in that moment of pain, that even though he’d given me no indication to hope, a considerable part of my heart had done just that. I’d desperately wished he would change his mind. I’d dreamed he would come to love me as much as I did him.
But he would never love me.
No one would.
It made sense…
I was a bastard pup…a disgrace.
Coal gave no response. He just stood there, eyes dark and stormy, the muscles in his neck corded and tense.
I turned to leave. There was no reason for me to be there. I wasn’t wanted.
…and nearly stumbled into the only other person I dreaded seeing most, Alpha.
Alpha had his arms crossed over his chest, as he leaned casually against the wall, with a smirking grin on his face. He truly loved my pain.
“I see you’ve heard the good news. I’m certain you will show our future Luna all of the respect she deserves.”
From my peripheral vision, Coal clenched his fist but said nothing. I hung my head, not looking Alpha in the eyes, and mumbled through my tears, “Yes, Alpha.”
His features turned hard. “Hurry up then, pup. I expect you back in plenty of time to clean yourself up. You will be serving our guests this evening.”
“Yes, Alpha.” I nodded and ran out the door.
When I returned that evening, Lena required me to properly shower, rather than the cold baths I’d been taking in the stream. After I finished, I slipped into the black and white serving dress she laid out.
My heart tightened, pain clenching my chest, as I made my way to the packhouse. Several wolves from neighboring packs were visiting this evening, but I wasn’t worried about seeing them.
My only concern was not breaking down into a puddle of tears, having to watch Coal shower his future mate with affection.
I stepped through the main doors and was amazed to see the difference. Beautifully decorated, the house was full of fresh cut flowers and sparkly lights.
Making my way quickly to Cook, I received my instructions for the evening. I was to keep our guests from being thirsty, whether that meant beer, soft drinks or champagne.
Guests filed in quickly, over a hundred wolves, many of which I didn’t recognize.
After Alpha made preliminary introductions and gave a welcoming speech, he sat back down at the head table. High ranking wolves of our pack, Ravenwood, including Coal and Calla, sat with him, as well as Alpha Wilder, two Betas and several Enforcers from Onyx Moon, all of which looked like fierce warriors. Shit.
As the night went on, I noticed one of Onyx Moon’s Enforcers kept making eye contact with me. When I circled the table to refill his drink, he reached out and held my forearm. He looked up at me with a grin. “I’m surprised a wolf, as pretty as you, is serving. I’m Langdon. What’s your name?”
“Oh!” I gasped, startled by his attention and overt flirting.
Alpha’s expression turned hard. Coal glared, looking like he wanted to murder the male. Langdon appeared either not to notice their aggression, or chose to remain unfazed by it, completely relaxed.
I was still dumbstruck and stared at the handsome enforcer like he had three heads. His fingers gently rubbed my flesh, causing goosebumps to break out on my arm. He raised his eyebrows, and I realized he was still waiting for my response.
“Brin...Brinley,” I stuttered.
“Brinley,” he repeated, letting the word fall off his tongue, as though tasting it. “A beautiful name for a beautiful wolf.”
A fierce blush painted my cheeks. I looked down and then back up at Langdon through my eyelashes, mumbling, “Thank you.”
Topaz eyes danced as his grin widened. Thankfully, he released my arm. I breathe a huge sigh of relief because I was confident if he didn’t let me go, I would combust in the next thirty seconds.
The rest of the dinner went smoothly, with Langdon only making a few sly glances my way, with the occasional wink. Each time, heat crept up my neck, and I felt my face flush. He seemed to enjoy the effect he had on me.
Once the wolves disbursed from dinner, everyone gathered in the backyard under the stars, to enjoy a bonfire and music. I continued my serving duties, walking through the crowd with a tray of drinks.
Langdon hadn’t said anything for the past twenty minutes. I assumed he’d moved on to the next shewolf.
I was wrong.
Making my way to another cluster of wolves, I found Langdon leaning casually against a tree. His eyes lit up when he saw me. I gave him a small smile, warmed by his attention.
In a move so smooth, I wasn’t sure how he accomplished it, he relieved me of my tray, carefully setting it down and spun our bodies so that now my back was against the tree. He had almost caged me in, leaning his large frame toward me with his palm against the tree to the right side of my head.
My heart beat wildly at our new positioning. I stared up at Langdon wide-eyed. He was an Enforcer, a warrior of their pack, built for strength and speed. He made me look tiny next to his broad chest and thick arms.
And somewhere along the way, he’d managed to lose his shirt!
He was so close I found my hand planted against his chest, just to maintain some space between us. Of course, I didn’t realize I was randomly tracing his peck muscles with my fingers until he growled, and the eyes of his Wolf came forward, glowing topaz.
I froze, staring at his rugged good looks, dark hair and well-defined jaw. As with most wolves, he sported a 5 o’clock shadow. He was older, probably close to thirty. Wiser. More experienced.
My Wolf snubbed her nose in distaste. He didn’t compare to her powerful mate. I reminded her harshly that she wasn’t going to have her mate for much longer as he planned to mark another female in less than a month. She whimpered in my head and fell silent.
Without warning, Coal abruptly appeared!
His expression was livid. “What the fuck do you think you are doing?”
Mortification ran through me that he would speak to me like that, particularly in front of strangers and guests. But more than that…
I was furious. How dare he?
Langdon interrupted with a raised eyebrow, “Whoa, hold on, young alpha. Do you have a claim on her? I thought you were with the blonde female?” He nodded toward Calla who had come up behind Coal, looking none too happy with his interference.
Coal ignored him and spat scornfully, “He’s near twice your age! All he wants is for you to spread your legs for him!”
I recoiled. It felt like I’d been slapped.
Langdon’s features turned hard.
I balled my hands into fists and thrust my chest out, hissing at Coal, “What if that is all I want out of him?!”
Coal hesitated, stunned at my response. I continued ranting, “You don’t get to decide who I spread my legs for. You lost that right when you rejected me as your mate!”
“Wait! He rejected you?” Langdon asked incredulously. “You are the true Luna?”
I didn’t answer that question because it hurt too much.
Langdon muttered, “No wonder I felt so much power coming off of you.”
I was too caught up in the moment, to wonder what the hell he meant by that. I forced my tears back. “You rejected me! You’re going to mate her! Next month!”
“Coal,” Calla whined, tugging on his arm. “Just leave them alone. Who cares what that disgusting tramp does?”
Both Coal and Langdon growled at her words, causing her to snap her mouth shut and stare at them with wide eyes.
“What is the meaning of this?” a powerful voice demanded.
Oh, no! My heart sunk—Alpha. And from the look on his face, he was furious. I shrank back as far as I could go into the tree.
“I’ve got it handled,” Coal hissed.
Alpha growled, “No, clearly you don’t. I will not tolerate any insolence, particularly from the likes of her.” He focused his fearsome attention on me, “You have embarrassed yourself, and this pack for the last time.” He turned to one of our betas and smiled, “Take her. As punishment, whip her ten times.”
I couldn’t help the loud gasp that escaped my lungs. I trembled. A flash of guilt came over Coal’s expression.
Langdon interjected, “That’s not necessary!”
Alpha turned the full force of his authority on Langdon and growled, “Are you questioning me, in my own home?”
Langdon spoke soothingly, “Of course not, Alpha. I was merely trying to state her punishment is not necessary to satisfy me.”
Alpha spat, “Well, it is necessary to satisfy me.”