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Bait And Switch--SAMPLE (Book 4 of The Claimed Series)

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Chapter 1

Lena

Spaghetti. It’s all I thought about and had the mind to prepare while that little box in the brown bag on the kitchen counter was staring at me accusingly. It called out to me, but I knew the score. Water first. Lots of it. Enough to make my bladder flow like Niagara Falls.

My phone buzzed and I ignored it. Probably Webb telling me he’s on his way home. Alpha Lenon never texted me, and my brothers would still be at work at this time or on their way home. My parents had yet to get comfortable with the technology, especially my father, whose thick fingers made for some very interesting autocorrects. Sometimes I texted him and he’d call. I wouldn’t answer and it forced him to text me back. He’s gotten better about checking his texts, but I still crack the fuck up every time I remember when he asked me to bring baked children instead of chicken for a potluck we had at my parents’ home.

I knew it was a mistake from the first and asked him how many children he’d like me to slaughter. When he asked just what the duck I was talking about, I put him out of his misery and called him, allowing him to swear a blue streak when I told him to check his texts. Needless to say, there was baked chicken on the menu that night, and all toddlers and infants were safe.

The teens…well, their fate was yet to be decided. If one more of them tried to egg my car or TP the tree in my front yard, I was going to be sniffing out the little fuckers and bringing them to the Alpha. It helped that he and I were tight.

Back to spaghetti. Break the hard noodles in half. You can do that, Lena.

Shit. I forgot that water in a pot was necessary, and I grabbed a pot for the water and filled it to halfway. It was only me and Webb, though he did like leftovers.

Fuck it. I filled that pot three-quarters of the way and broke more noodles.

Sauce. Oh, God. Did we have any?

Okay, yes. I just bought some just at the store. It was in that accusatory little bag that was taunting me with promises I’d made over the past six months. Promises that were starting to become more like hopes and dreams.

Water. I needed to drink it as well. I wished I could pee on command. That would be a handy skill right about now.

The sauce went into a smaller pan, and I grabbed the hamburger meat from its shelf in the fridge before breaking it up and adding it to a frying pan.

Sauce. Check.

Water. Check check.

Meat. Triple check.

Garlic bread could be prepared while I was trying to ignore the bag on the table, and I brought out a long loaf of Italian bread and cut it in half. We wouldn’t eat it all, so I put half of it in the freezer to keep fresh for the next time.

Halfway done with my bottle of water.

How much did one need to pee in order to take the test? I hadn’t had to take one as of yet since my period had been irritatingly regular for five of the last six months. I was missing it now by three, maybe four, days. It took all the strength I had in me not to buy a pregnancy test on the first day it was missed. I didn’t want to buy it and have my period start the next day. That bitch was either taking her sweet time to taunt me, or I was pregnant.

God, wouldn’t Webb be excited if I were? Ever since his 29th birthday we’d been trying to have a baby. We’d had so much sex I was certain he has made a permanent mark on my pussy. I thought if anyone—or anything—else tried to get up in there, my vagina might just eject it like one of those ejector seats in smaller planes.

Rejected. Denied. Vamoose, ya crazy cock.

Ignoring the buzz of my cell phone again, I saw it light up with a text. If it was an emergency, someone would have called by now. But honestly, I was just afraid to go over to the damned thing. It was temptingly close to the pregnancy test or two that was wedged up next to the Rice Krispies and bag of BBQ Lays I had a weakness for.

Or addiction to. Same thing, right?

With a full bottle of water ingested, I went to grab myself another one when I saw that the water was boiling. I added the noodles and stirred a bit before grabbing another water bottle from the fridge.

I downed it even quicker and was waiting for my bladder to sing God Bless America while I tapped my right toe against the linoleum floor and prayed that urination came soon.

Ten minutes later, I was rewarded. That first fullness in my lower abdomen told me that it was time, and I practically leaped for the brown bag and grabbed both tests to bring in with me. I wasn’t taking any chances. If they gave differing results—one negative, one positive—I was going to fucking cry.

I tore the wrapper off the first test as quick and I could before squatting over the toilet.

Who the hell thought of using piss to test for hCG? I could kiss that man or woman. It was so much better than going for a long, drawn-out blood test that took days to come back. All the while, the mother-to-be (possibly) bit her nails down to the quick and pulled at her hair wondering. Wondering whether she had a baby in there, touching the flesh above it, hoping. Praying it’s not a false alarm.

I was able to squeeze enough pee for the ten-second stream the test suggested and placed the clear cap back on it.

Three minutes.

I didn’t look. Didn’t want to look.

But, fuck it, I did anyway.

I watched as the stick turned slightly darker and a millimeter thin line crawled up vertically.

One pink line.

The urine seeped more and...

Two pink lines.

Two!

Holy Jesus on a cracker. I was finally fucking pregnant!

<3<3<3

I was tempted to call Webb and tell him we were going to be parents, but he was on his way home and the news could wait a few minutes. He usually was back by now, so was assuming training had gone over, as it did every so often. He was Head Enforcer of Shadow Creek’s warriors and had a lot more responsibility than many of the other shifters in our community. Still, it would only take him ten minutes to get back here and, if I was patient enough to wait to take the damned test, I could be patient enough to wait to see the look on his face when I told him.

Hearing talking outside, I headed—positive test still in hand—to the kitchen and decided to check on the noodles. Even if they were in a clump or stuck to the pan, I didn’t give a shit. I’d take takeout over lumpy spaghetti any day to have—

“Lena? You home?”

I hid the test strip behind my back, smiling.

“In the kitchen,” I called looking down at the noodles before stirring.

I heard him walking toward the kitchen. There were two sets of feet, and I wondered if he had brought one of the younger shifters to dinner. Maybe that’s what his texts were about. A warning for unexpected company. He sometimes brought the newbies home and spoke with them over dinner, giving tips, pointers, praise if they had shown promise.

“Hey.”

I turned around, not to see someone young, just barely out of his teens, but a grown man.

A grown man looking at Webb like he could lick him all over like a dripping soft-serve ice cream cone. My smile faded as I took in Webb’s serious countenance.

Dead serious.

No.

No.

Not now.

I slipped the test into my back pocket.

“Hi,” I said.

“Listen—” he started to say.

“No,” I interrupted. “I get it.” I looked over at the strange man—my man’s true mate—and stuck a hand out. “I’m Helena. Nice to meet you.” Not.

“Hugo,” he greeted, taking my hand gently. “Hugo Fallon. Webb told me about your circumstances, and I’m so sorry—”

“No need,” I cut in, voice sounding stronger than I thought it would. I must’ve been in shock. Numb. “I understood this could happen, so there’s no apology necessary.”

I looked to Webb, whose face was a mirror of my own. Sad. Regretful.

If he only knew how regretful mine was.

“I think I’m going to go to the bedroom and get some things,” I said, trying to pass myself off as much more cheerful than I’m sure I looked. “Dinner’s almost ready. Do you think you guys could just look after the spaghetti and sauce? There’s garlic bread waiting, too.”

I didn’t wait for a response because they were coming. The tears that I couldn’t stop, wouldn’t stop even if I could. I needed them like I needed my next breath.

Someone spoke. Webb, I think, and I rushed to the bedroom and sat on the bed, blinking as salty rivulets ran down my face unchecked.

“Lena? Can I come in?”

Webb.

“I’d like to be alone for a few minutes, please,” I told him, hating the wobble in my voice.

“Lena,” he called again.

“Please! I need to be alone.”

Again. Always.

Forever.

<3<3<3

Webb never came back to the bedroom. I knew that because I couldn’t smell him anywhere near. I had tossed the positive pregnancy test in the en suite bathroom’s small garbage can and hid it under some used tissues. I didn’t know why, but I couldn’t bear to tell him. Not now. I would just get in the way of two mates that were destined.

And came at the wrong fucking time.

I packed up clothing, underwear, shoes. Anything that was mine went into one of the two suitcases I’d had stored in the back of the closet. Now if I could only sneak out of the house without having to say anything to either of them. I supposed biting the bullet was the only way to pass go and collect my two hundred dollars.

Nobody ever won at the game of Monopoly. You were always taxed to within an inch of your eyeteeth. Even the bank lost at times.

I rolled both suitcases and watched as Webb came out of the dining room.

“Lena, you don’t have to go right now,” he told me, face softening and words contrite.

“Yeah, Webb. Yeah, I do,” I told him. “I have to. You have Hugo, and I’ve got to go. I’m not playing the third wheel. It’s awkward as fuck.”

“Lena, just come sit down and eat,” he said.

“It’s cool. I’m not very hungry, actually,” I responded, lying my pregnant little ass off. My tone was dead and the tears…the tears I thought I had put to bed while packing up my life, fought to break free once again.

“You should eat,” he said, knowing I wouldn’t stay and trying desperately to get me to. He knew me well having been together for four years. Four years that were wiped away in an instant. A moment that should have been happy.

I struggled with myself to tell him about the baby, our baby, but I didn’t. Couldn’t. Whichever. Whatever.

My purse. It was by the brown, traitorous bag that had held the two pregnancy tests, one of which was stowed in my closed luggage. Unused.

Maybe I should have gotten the positive one and brought it with me as well. There was always the possibility Webb could find it, confront me with it. Then I’d be the pathetic hanger-on I promised myself I would never be. If he had found his mate, I would go quietly. That was the deal. And that was what I was doing right now, though Webb was fighting me on it. Albeit, halfheartedly.

I strolled quickly over to the table, averting my eyes from anyone and everyone, and grabbed my purse with my car keys inside.

“Bye, Webb,” I muttered over my shoulder as I walked out of my home for what should be the last time in my life.

My tears were successfully held back until I started my Nissan and pulled away, though I had to pull over half a mile away because they were blinding me.

I had a baby to protect and the tears would be there later. I couldn’t risk an accident if I couldn’t see the road.

I caught a sob in my throat, stopped the tears—which was damn near the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life—and drove away from my home, my heart, and the father of my child.
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