Chapter 19 - Stone (Part 2)
Stone made his own rounds of the territory with Gunner before returning to the packhouse. They discussed privately Lance’s potential as alpha of their pack should he be able to join them, the implications it would have, and the repercussions of losing Gwen if she and Lance had to leave.
Gunner saw potential in the pup and trusted Eramis to train him well. He’d have to, otherwise, he wouldn’t intend to give the title to Lance in the future—mate or not. He was young, but he was also impressionable.
The next day, Stone watched Gunner drill Aubree. He ached to see her struggle to do ten push-ups in a row. She could barely jog for five minutes before having to stop and catch her breath. Lifting weights was cringe-worthy. She could hardly lift the forty-pound bar at the bench press.
At the end of it all, she was exhausted and Stone was discouraged with her physical strength—or rather, lack thereof. It shouldn’t surprise him, but he had secretly hoped for better results.
He knew Gunner didn’t approve, but he wouldn’t say it.
She was weaker than a ten-year-old pup, with the stamina of a two-year-old.
The realities of having a human mate.
[After her first shift, she should be stronger,] Gunner said as they regarded Aubree laying flat on her back with her arms and legs spread out, gasping for air. [In the meantime, we will build on her core strength and have her running regularly to build her stamina.]
Stone nodded in agreement. [Don’t reveal her results to the others.]
Gunner raised an inquisitive brow. [Are you ashamed of her?]
He sighed, brushing his fingers through his hair. [More like embarrassed for her. She knows she’s not in shape.]
She groaned. “Can someone help me up? I can’t move.”
She held her hand up and Stone stepped to her side and took it. He pulled her up with ease as she groaned loudly. He could feel her weariness and the ache of her body. He kind of missed that feeling. It had been a while since he pushed himself to his limits.
“Ready for round two?” he asked, suppressing the urge to smirk and maintain a firm, stoic expression.
She stared at him as if he were a vampire.
“I was joking.”
She teetered on her heels for a moment before planting her feet on the floor with a groan. “Oh, thank god.”
He wrapped an arm around her slender waist and turned her toward the staircase. “Come. Let’s get you some nourishment.”
She barked a laugh. “Nourishment? Sometimes, I forget how old you are.”
Gunner stayed behind to begin his morning workout routine. Always the dedicated warrior.
Gwen was getting up and moving around with more ease. Lance followed her like a puppy, ready to catch her if she lost her balance or help her with anything slightly out of grasp. If it hadn’t been for the matebond, Stone was sure she’d be annoyed by his over-attentive behavior. They all knew Lance couldn’t help it and just wanted to help his mate feel better.
With Hector and the Rosenrot pack members gone, having left first thing that morning, they had to rework their schedules. Gavin insisted on patrolling the borders at night, as did Gunner, which left Stone and Alistair to take care of things during the day.
“Why don’t we go into town and buy you some workout clothes and some lighter weights for you to start with?” Stone suggested to Aubree over lunch.
She sighed but relented. “Guess I have no choice.”
“Perhaps when you become a lycan, you will enjoy and even look forward to the workouts?”
She gave him that look like she couldn’t believe she’d heard him correctly. “You guys enjoy it?”
He nodded. “My body’s been itching for a nice long run.”
“Gah!” She threw her head back. “Don’t you get enough physical exertion every night?”
His lips quirked up. “Not at all. That’s just a small treat. The icing on the cake.”
He pulled her against his chest and tilted her chin up. She melted under his touch as a smile spread across her face.
“A taste. A nibble,” he teased in a breathy voice.
Her eyelashes fluttered as she closed her eyes and his lips grasped hers. Her fingers curled into the fabric of his shirt as he brushed his hand through her hair to cradle the back of her head and deepen the kiss.
The kitchen door slid open.
“Ugh. Get a room, you two,” Gwen taunted as she entered with Lance.
As Aubree drew away, Stone gazed into her eyes as he brushed his fingers through her hair.
“Go back outside if you can’t handle it,” Aubree quipped before breaking eye-contact and grinning at Gwen.
Naturally, Gwen brushed off Aubree’s response and changed the subject, her lips quirking up. “How did the exam go?”
Aubree groaned as she threw her head back and went to the cupboard to fetch a glass. “Don’t ask. I suck so much.”
The playful sparkle left Gwen’s eyes and she frowned as she watched Aubree walk to the fridge and fill her glass with water. “Don’t say that, Bree. I’m sure you tried your best. It’s going be rough at first, but you’ll get used to it.”
“Yeah,” Lance chimed in. “Hang in there, Luna.”
Aubree put on a brave face, but Stone knew that was all it was. “Thanks, guys. I hope so.”
Dom and his entourage came an hour before nightfall.
Tension immediately settled in the house.
Everyone wanted to ask the question, but no one dared given the grim expressions on everyone’s faces.
No one found their mates.
The four newcomers were exhausted from the trip and camped out in the living room. Dom and Mari got the couches, while Alec and Dane crashed on the floor with blankets.
A light tapping on the bedroom door woke Stone up the next morning, half an hour before his alarm was set to go off for patrol duty. It was still dark outside with a faint gray light beginning to tint the sky.
He could smell Dom on the other side, while Aubree moaned in her sleep and wrapped her arms tighter around his torso.
“One minute,” he grumbled as he tried to slip away from Aubree without disturbing her, but it was no use.
She whimpered, her forehead creasing with a frown. “No.”
He kissed her forehead. “Sorry, Love. Duty calls. Get up when the alarm goes off, or I’ll send Alistair to get you.”
Her face contorted in a grimace before she rolled over with a grunt and snuggled deeper into the blanket.
She had to start her training today, whether she liked it or not.
He climbed out of the bed and pulled on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt before leaving the room and meeting Dom in the dark hallway.
Dom was pacing back and forth and stopped when Stone closed the bedroom door gently behind him.
“Sorry for waking you, Alpha, but there are some matters we need to discuss before you go out. Is there someplace we can go to talk privately?”
Stone motioned to his study a few feet away and Dom followed him in.
“Well,” Stone said as he gestured for Dom to take a seat across from his desk. “Good morning. I hope you slept well.”
“It was adequate.”
Stone didn’t miss his clipped tone. It reminded him of his father, Eramis. Something spurred the strain in his voice and the tightness in his jaw.
Rubbing the remaining sleep from his face, Stone sighed. He leaned forward in his seat and rested his elbows on the smooth surface of his desk. Hands clasped together, he waited for Dom to begin.
“This stays between you, me, and my family,” Dom stated.
Stone arched an eyebrow. “As much as I can respect your family’s need for privacy, you know very well how hard it will be for me to keep secrets from my mate.”
Stone nodded and pulled away from the desk, leaning back casually in his chair. “You may proceed.”
Dom took a deep breath and closed his eyes. His forehead creased as his brows knotted together. He fell back in his chair and pressed a hand to his face as he exhaled.
“My father just called me. Tiberius went rogue last night.”