Chapter 1 - Jake
The numbers continue to trend higher each month. Five years in business and we continue to build a customer base from the local packs. I double check the gross revenue for last month and can’t help but smile. Nate and I wanted to prove to our dad that we could do something other than tracking shifters. Numbers don’t lie.
Nate is a year younger than me, and some people find it hard to tell us apart. We both take after our dad’s physical features, but together we share the same love for art as our mother.
When we opened Howler’s Ink, dad pulled me aside to make sure I understood this “side hustle” as he called it, may be long term for Nate but I would have to give it up. My fate had been decided for me because I was the oldest. Next in line to become pack alpha.
“What are you going to do about dad, Jake? You heard him last night.” My brother sits down in the folding chair in front of my desk.
“I know. He’s chomping at the bit.” I close the ledger and throw it into the top drawer of the desk.
“That’s an understatement. I feel bad for you. I mean, you have to be mated before you can take over as pack alpha.” He rubs the back of his neck and grimaces. “There are a lot of she wolves out there that would fight for the opportunity to be your mate.”
“It’s not me they want. Those women just want to be an alpha’s mate and the power that goes with it.”
“What about Shiela, or Haylee? Either of them would be strong enough to keep the other females in line.”
“Shiela, I don’t think so. You are right about her. She is strong enough to keep the other females in line, but she’s one conniving wolf. I don’t need that. In fact, I don’t think there are many men in our pack that would put up with it.” It’s true, she has a knack for stirring up trouble and blaming it on someone else. I won’t have time to worry about what she’s up to when I take over as alpha.
“Haylee, it is then.” Nate clapped his hands together.
My body slumps over until my head hits the desk. “No. Haylee is like a little sister to us. It would be weird, Nate.” I groan.
“You are running out of options, big brother. Dad wants to step down in a few weeks.”
I straighten up. “Why can’t he hold on for just another year? I need time to find her, Nate. I don’t understand why he’s in an all fire hurry to make this happen right now.”
My little brother stands up and stretches up to his full six foot six inches and cracks a grin. “Because he wants to take mom on the honeymoon, he never gave her.”
“Yeah. Maybe I should talk to mom.” Mom could buy me some time.
“Maybe you should just talk to Haylee and see if the two of you can work through your little sister issues.”
The shop door sweeps open and the bell chimes. “Hello? Anyone here?”
I recognize the voice and the perfume wafting through the shop. Sheila.
“You might as well go talk to her, Jake. Unless your fated mate walks in through that door in the next couple of weeks, I’d say it’s between Haylee and that one.” He throws his thumb toward the front of the shop.
“Yeah, I’ll go see what she wants.”
I walk to the front counter and watch the blonde she-wolf lick her lips. “Hi Jake! I didn’t know you were here.” She leans over the counter, giving me an eyeful of her assets.
“Shiela. What brings you to this side of town?” I force myself to smile. This can’t be what the fates have in mind for me.
“Well, I was thinking I might get a tattoo. Can you help me with that?” She winks and twirls your hair around her finger.
It’s not that she isn’t attractive. My wolf always perks up when she is near, but that’s as far as it goes. But it’s not about compatibility at this point, is it? I’m almost forty and still haven’t found my mate. And the chances of it happening are small.
With a deep breath, I let go of my needs and try to put the pack first. They need an alpha. A mated alpha. And I guess it’s time I do my duty.
“Sure, Shiela. I can help you with that. Is this your first tat?”
She giggles. “No, silly. I have one, but it’s hiding under my clothes. Right here.” Her pink polished nail taps her hip. “I’d be happy to show you sometime.” She tilts her chin down and looks up through her fake long lashes. “You know what I mean, Jake?”
Good, lord. “How about we take care of the one you came for today first?” I pull out my art portfolio and slide it in front of her. “Look at these and let me know what you think.”
“Hmm. Do you have a butterfly?” She continues to turn the pages.
“Let me see.” I pull the book from her and shift toward the last pages. “How about something like this?”
“Oooh. I like that. Can you do it in pink? Pink is my color, you know.” She leans in closer to me. “And I’d like you to put it right here.” She tugs on the collar of her t-shirt, exposing a lacy hot pink bra. Her fingers drag the fabric away from her tan skin.
This woman is throwing herself at me, and my wolf only chuffs. “I can put it wherever you’d like, Shiela. Come with me.” I take her by the arm and pull her to my workroom.
The bell on the front door chimes as I am finishing up with Sheila’s butterfly. I hear Nate welcome the new customer while I’m wiping the remaining ink off of Sheila’s chest.
“Welcome to Howler’s. How can I help you?” My brother has a knack for making people feel at home. We decided early on that he would be the face of Howler’s and I would run the business side of things.
“Jake? I heard a rumor, and I wanted to ask you about it.” Sheila pulled her pink T-shirt over her head and straightens it over her body.
“Oh yeah? What rumor is that, Sheila?” My wolf perks one ear up and then pushes up on his paws to stretch out his back. At first I thought he was curious about Sheila’s question, but then I realize it’s not Sheila he’s listening to.
“Well, there’s talk that you are going to be taking over the pack soon. That your father is stepping down. Is it true? I mean, you’d have to be mated to be Alpha, and I didn’t think you had picked a mate yet. You haven’t picked someone, have you?”
I stand and step to my supply bench to clean up and continue to listen to the soft voice speaking to my brother.
“Hi. I think I want a tattoo, but I’m not sure what to get.” Her sweet voice brushes over me and my wolf goes on alert.
What’s going on, buddy?
His tail thumps as he sits up. Mine.
“Jake? Are you listening to me?” Sheila is standing next to me with her arms crossed.
“Listen, let’s talk later. Okay? I’ve got another customer to take care of.” I wrap an arm around her shoulder and guide her to the front of the shop.
“Dinner, tonight?” She asks.
“I don’t know, Sheila. Can I get back to you?” I guide her to the front door.
“Okay, call me!” She gives me a little finger wave and heads out to her red Mustang convertible.
“Here’s my art portfolio. Look and see if anything sparks an idea. I can always draw something free-hand for you if you’d rather start from scratch.” Nate continues.
“I can take it from here, Nate.” I growl at my brother. The thought of him touching this woman causes my wolf to come to the surface. Nate sees the flecks of gold glow in my eyes and backs off.
“Yeah, sure brother. Julia, you’ll be in good hands with my brother Jake. I’ve got to go do something in the back.” He appraises me and smirks before he strolls to the back office.
I pull Nate’s book from her hands and slide mine in to replace it as her cornflower blue eyes meet mine. “Sorry about that. Nate has something he needs to finish up. I’m happy to help you. I’m Jake, by the way.”
Her small hand pushes through her jet-black hair. “Oh. Okay. I’m not even sure I want to do this.”
The petite woman takes a step away from the counter, but I’m not about to let her go. “Maybe I can help you figure out the right design for you. I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?” I can’t remember what Nate had said before I ran him off to the back room.
“Julia.” She whispered.
My wolf growls because he knows she’s spooked. “Julia. I want you to come look through my portfolio and see if there is anything you like. We can talk through some ideas together.” It wasn’t a question.
Her shoulders squared as she lifted her chin. “Okay, Jake. I came to Rapid Falls for a new start. It’s time to do something just for me.” She reached for the book and started turning the pages.
A new start? Maybe a bad break-up? That’s fine by me. I need to claim her as soon as possible.
My wolf scratches at me again. Mate.
I hear you, buddy. Mine.