It was strange, waking up in a room that smelled like Christmas. I almost expected to look out the window to see that a smattering of snow had fallen overnight, but everything was still green and lush and brimming with life.
I opened up the windows to see that it was still early, the fragrant air smelling like early morning dew. The scent was pleasant, but I liked the smell of West better. It reminded me of runs in the woods and the holidays, two of my favorite things to indulge in.
My left arm felt completely normal, though the ache in my leg was still a bother. I couldn’t take the pain pills that West had brought home from the clinic until I ate, so I pushed myself to the edge of the bed before putting an unsteady food on the plush carpet. I wasn’t even able to get my other foot on the ground before the door opened and the delicious scent of eggs and bacon assaulted my nose.
“What are you doing? Don’t get up!”
West looked almost pained. If he hadn’t looked so damned anxious, I would have laughed at the comical bearing on his face.
“I was just going to go down and make some breakfast.” I eyed the plate hungrily, completely ignoring his unnecessary panic. “I see I won’t have to do that, though.”
“Yeah,” he laughed. “Don’t get used to it. Breakfast food is all I’m able to handle. I’m a bachelor and it’s the most important meal of the day, so I watched some of those cooking shows until I was able to master everything from scrambled eggs to French toast. My sandwich skills are alright I suppose, but you don’t have to be Wolfgang Puck to slap two pieces of bread over some meat and cheese to be any kind of chef.”
“I’m sure it will be delicious,” I told him eagerly.
I hadn’t even gotten treated to breakfast in bed on my birthdays, so this was a real treat for me.
“You are going to eat with me, right?” He had made too much food for one wolf—even one who was recuperating—to feast upon, so I eyed the large tray warily.
“Of course,” he said smartly. “The chef always needs to make sure his food is edible—though I did take a few nibbles while cooking downstairs.”
He placed the tray on the nightstand and started spooning up some eggs. After he made sure to add a little hot sauce, he moved it to my mouth and widened his eyes marginally.
He was…feeding me?
I was perfectly capable of the task myself, but I decided to placate him a little. He seemed so overanxious that I was willing to give into his whims until he settled down a bit.
Opening my mouth, I chewed thoroughly before swallowing. As I took down the first scrumptious bite of egg and tabasco sauce, he was lifting the same fork to his mouth to feed himself.
I nodded, smiling a little. He fed me bite after bite until my belly was full, and he started asking me about life at Arrowhead pack. Nothing too telling, just about my time growing up there. He steered clear of anything Zach-related, and I started to wonder who his mate was.
“Carla,” he told me with a twitch of his lips. “But you probably won’t have to worry about her. I haven’t spoken to her in five years. Don’t see her much, to be honest, and have to wonder if she stays some nights at another pack.”
He didn’t say it, but he looked like he was wondering if she too had found her second chance mate somewhere out there in the world.
Handing me a glass of orange juice, he placed a horse pill in the palm of my hand before nodding for me to take it.
“For the pain,” he prompted before I tossed it back and took a large sip of OJ, wincing as the large lump was swallowed down.
“Ugh, yuck. I hate pills.”
“But you’ll be out of pain, which is more important,” he told me with a concerned twitch to one of his brows.
“Where did you sleep?”
“Over there.” He pointed to the corner of the room where a small sofa was situated against a wall in between a desk and a large bookshelf.
“This is your room? No wonder it smells like Christmas in here. You could have slept in your bed. I probably would have been more comfortable on the couch anyway.”
He shook his head vigorously before speaking.
“The doc said you needed rest. I couldn’t risk you falling off the couch and reinjuring yourself. My bed is much more comfortable than that saggy old thing anyway. When I got a new set for the living room, I put this old thing up in here so I could read.”
“What do you read?”
We traded questions back and forth for an hour. We ended up having quite a bit in common, a love of Stephen King books and an aptitude for not finishing a crossword puzzle between us, and he finally looked curiously over at me before asking something that seemed to ride heavy on his mind.
“You…Doc D told me we can’t get your cast wet, so it’s probably best if you took baths until it comes off. I can prop something up under you leg to keep it from getting drenched, but I’ll probably need to help you into the bath. That is, unless you want me to see if Luna Cassidy can come over for a few and help you instead.”
Something told me that he would have been deeply wounded if I asked for a strange woman instead of himself to help me bathe, so I shook my head in answer. Wolves who could shift were used to being seen in all states of undress. It came almost as natural as breathing.
“You can help—that is, if you don’t mind.”
The resulting grin told me he didn’t—not one bit.
After an awkwardly long bath—West kept his eyes averted from any of my private parts—and him helping me dry off, he grabbed an old hairbrush that seemed unused and started to comb out my long, wavy locks for me. I was wondering where he got the brush, as most men seemed to use combs instead. He saw the confusion in my eyes as I eyed the brush for a moment.
“Before I turned 18, I went into town with my parents,” he told me as he brushed soothingly through my wet tangles. “I bought a bunch of things for my mate when I found her. This brush was one of them.”
He went over a short list of other things, some of which had gotten lost in the five plus years since he had been rejected.
“We’ll have to hit the store in the nearest big town for some of the harder to find items, but there’s a small boutique I can hit on the way over to Paul and Cass’s house. They invited us over for dinner, by the way. I hope you don’t mind that I accepted. You were asleep and they would want to meet you formally as they are the leaders.”
“No, I don’t mind,” I told him as he wound his hands around to fist my hair. There was a possessive dominance in the gesture, and I almost wanted to shiver at the thought of his hands sliding around my neck, his lips teasing my skin as his hands glided lower—
“Good,” he said with a small smile as he let go of my hair. “Paul, as I’ve told you, is my best friend. He found his mate right before he was set to take part in The Claiming ceremonies a few years back. Since he was an Alpha, they gave him permission to bow out so he could bring his mate back to Destiny. It’s probably better they did. If anyone else had tried to lay claim on her then, Paul probably would have ripped the man to pieces.”
Wolves were possessive, dominant creatures, particularly higher up in the food chain. I would have felt bad at the man who tried to claim Paul’s female, though it was have been stupidity to go against a powerful Alpha.
“What is he like? Paul?”
“He’s a good guy, funny. Always up my ass about being a complete stick in the mud—not that I could help it. Rejection can sometimes kill, it’s so painful. If I was an Omega, I might have been dead by now.”
“Do…do you think I would have died? My parents were Omegas.” And I guess I was too?
He seemed hesitant to speak, and he opened his mouth a few times before finally letting the words fall out.
“I don’t think you would have. Once you felt the mating pull with your Alpha, it would have automatically made you stronger. You would have no longer counted as an Omega. If it had happened before you felt that pull, I believe you wouldn’t be here to this day. It’s to my good fortune that your previous mate was of strong blood, even if the fucker did reject you.”
“I can’t blame him, honestly,” I told him. “He was given the Alpha Command and if he didn’t reject me, he would have been killed.”
“His own father would have killed his own child over a broken Alpha Command?” His eyes bugged out they were so wide. “That…that’s sick!”
I had to agree, though the whole sordid affair still left me feeling a bit bitter. I felt a change of subject was due.
“So, when do I get to meet your best friend and his Luna?”
Hours later found me laughing at Cassidy—who insisted I called her Cass instead of Cassidy or Luna—telling me the tale of her mating. She made it seem much more interesting than Paul did. He had simply said she was his woman and there was nothing that The Counsel could do about it if he decided to mark her at the onset of The Claiming. He was all, me Tarzan, you Jane about it, though it was sort of sweet that he seemed so unperturbed about Cass making fun of his blustering attitude when they finally met.
“It was as if I was a tree his wolf had pissed on,” Cass said with a snicker. “I couldn’t have felt more like property if he had bought me at some slaver’s auction.”
I laughed and pictured Paul in a loincloth, beating his chest before swinging to another tree on a sturdy vine, a chimp eating a banana in the background.
“How long did it take him to lay his mark on you?” I asked. Cass was so forthcoming with everything it was hard to remember she was a Luna, and not just some other female shifter amongst hundreds.
“Are you kidding? He didn’t even leave the clearing.” She scoffed. “He bit me in front of a bunch of half-naked males. Some of them laughed their fucking asses off. Bastard didn’t care. Went all caveman on me.”
Though it didn’t surprise me much, I still lifted a brow at Paul, who was sitting with a beer in his hand, chatting with West in the dining room next to kitchen I was sitting in with Cassidy. West kept looking over at me, though I was sure his ears were keen enough to hear both of our conversations.
“West says you were rejected like him,” Cassidy said sympathetically. “I wanted to say I was sorry to hear that, but I’m glad you and West found each other. He’s been alone for so long since that Carla cunt rejected him. I was afraid he was never going to nut up and go to a Claiming. We’ve been on him about it since he turned 21 two years ago.”
“I have to believe that everything happens for a reason,” I said philosophically. The truth about Zach still hurt just a little, but having West there catering to my needs numbed the majority of the pain I was feeling. He was truly healing me—even the parts of myself I didn’t know hurt. “Besides, it’s not like I could have stayed at Arrowhead. I wouldn’t have been able to take it, seeing him with another female. I would have probably run off, maybe go rogue, anyway.”
“Do you have family outside of Arrowhead?” she asked expectantly.
“A few aunts and uncles,” I told her. “I probably would have gone to my aunt’s in Florida if I hadn’t…hadn’t fallen off the cliff after being rejected.”
I didn’t feel right, letting her know I had gone over the cliff willingly. I should have been stronger than that, and the idea that I could toss away my own life shamed me deeply.
“Wow. So far away…” Cassidy seemed to think about that before her face brightened again. “My family’s not from too far from there. Georgia, actually. Outside of Savannah.”
We talked a bit about the southern states since we had both either lived there or visited, but since most of my family was on the west coast, there was only so much I could say before exhausting my knowledge on the parts of Georgia and Florida I had visited. By that time, thankfully, dinner was ready, and I watched Paul, West, and Cass arrange the table and bring all the dishes out. West kindly arranged a plate for me so I didn’t have to move much, and I could tell by the look on his face he wanted to feed me again.
I nudged him with my left shoulder before taking my first bite, confirming that the dislocated joint was just fine.
After dinner, Paul let Cass handle the dishes while he brought West—with me in tow—into his study. He sat down behind his desk before assuming a grave air.
“Since you are mates with my Beta, I will have to assume you are to stay here at Destiny Pack?” he asked before West’s head swiveled to me anxiously.
“Of course,” I told him sincerely. “I have nothing to go back to anyway, except for my parents and younger brother. They’ll…well, they will be fine without me, especially Emery. I doubt he even realizes I’ve gone missing.”
Paul’s lip twitched at that.
“I have a couple of younger brothers like that who still live with my parents. A sister, too, though she is mated to a wolf in British Columbia. How old is your brother?”
We talked a little, getting to know each other. West had been kind enough to tell him of my rejection so I wouldn’t have to go through it again, and then Paul stood, opening a drawer to his desk before pulling a long, shiny blade out of it. I have to admit, my heart started to race once I knew what he was doing.
To join a new pack, you either had to mate into it—which I wasn’t ready for—or give a blood oath by mixing your life source with the Alpha’s.
“If you wish to stay here with West, you will have to swear a blood oath to Destiny, and we all know that means cutting all links to your old community. I figured that since you are hopped up on some pretty good meds right now, it would be best to do this while you’re still flying high on Percocet.” He glanced over at West. “Besides, if I did this any other time, I think my Beta would try to strangle me for hurting you. Best to get it over with while the good shit’s still percolating in your system.”
Thanking God I had just tossed another pain pill down my throat after dinner, I nodded unsteadily back at Paul. In the corner of my eye I could see West, his jaw set tight and a slight scowl on his face.
I held out my hand to the Alpha.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s do this already before I chicken out.”